Contributed by: Brett Northey Wednesday, March 04 2015 @ 12:17 am ACDT
It's pleasing to be able to report that former AFL Commissioner and football visionary Colin Carter continues to push the international cause despite moving back to "clubland" as Geelong Cats President.
Carter was instrumental in the emergence of the Australian Football League, with his 1985 Blue Book laying the path to a national competition, which along with the 2001 Carter Report into game development provide most of the pillars on which the League is based. Unfortunately his push for international development and in particular a bigger South African investment has not swayed the AFL Commission sufficiently to invest large enough sums to make the dreams a reality. AFL South Africa does continue to grow, as does international footy, but the trajectory right now suggests none of us will live to see semi-pro leagues outside of Australia or an international side ever competitive against an All-Australian side.
So it's good that Carter, a very accomplished individual outside football as well, is still advocating for an acceleration in investment. Most involved in international football know the AFL commitment has grown overall over the last decade, but it ebbs and flows, it changes direction, it focuses on talent identification and development and on sustainability (a worthy goal) but it never really quite invests enough in any one spot for critical mass to see a true explosion.
This author, whilst uncomfortable about "picking winners" or worse "picking favourites", has slowly come to the realisation that the trajectory is unacceptably low, and in reality there will not be major money spent across all international programs. So perhaps the best chance for the game internationally is for one or two major foci and if they can make a quantum leap forward then the confidence and blueprint will be there to be applied to other regions. Personally this means maintaining the current program but then making the investment of an extra few million into one or two regions. The most obvious would seem to be New Zealand with a view to an AFL club there by around 2030, South Africa with a focus on mass participation, and perhaps additional support for AFL Europe where so many countries (wealthy and closely situated) have taken up the game. This of course begs for a backlash from Asia or North America or the rest of the Pacific. But something has to change.
Back to Colin Carter. You can read more of his thoughts on international footy in International clubs in AFL by 2032? and Carter on football vision, but his most recent venture is a letter to AFL Commission Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and CEO Gillon McLachlan. Jon Pierik in the The Age writes that the Cats chief calls for overhaul of AFL's international agenda[*1] . It discusses the AFL's modest efforts to stoke the sport internationally, cites lost opportunities and makes a specific plea to support South Africa.
"Despite obvious problems, Africa is increasingly seen as the next frontier of great opportunity. World Bank, IMF [International Monetary Fund] and investor assessments are positive," Carter says.
As one of Australia's sharpest business minds, and having played a key role in the transformation of the then VFL into the AFL, Carter says league bosses must confront a major question.
"Our's is arguably the oldest football competition in the world and we believe that we have the 'best game' in the world. And so, the confronting question is this: if all of this is true, why is our game only played in a few states at the bottom of Australiaω! What went wrongω"
Carter pointed to governance issues as the reasons for the sport losing "strongholds" in the ACT and Papua New Guinea, while also referencing the eventual death of a New Zealand competition in the early 1900s and what was once a "flourishing competition in South Africa built on the many soldiers who served there during the Boer War".
"I am a believer in our northern states expansion — it is crucial for our future — but for a fraction of the cost we could also, over the next 30 years, build a participation base in South Africa that is larger than our markets in WA and SA," Carter said.
"If we could spend say $2 million to $3 million per year in South Africa plus double that in sponsorships — and manage it with discipline — it would have more impact than spending $30 million to $50 million per year in our northern states.
"The point is that South Africa is a truly unique opportunity and not to be confused with the other international opportunities. Can we start to take it seriously?
"Imagine in 2030 having several million people playing our game down there and following the Cape Town team in the AFL."