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Kennett misfires on international footy

  • Tuesday, May 31 2011 @ 08:57 pm ACST
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General News

Outspoken Hawthorn Football Club President Jeff Kennett has launched an offensive against AFL support for international football, in an attack that was ironically wrong in so many ways, and prompting a response from former South Africa Lions captain Mtutu Hlomela.

Kennett, also a former Victorian Premier, said that "AFL football will never be an international game." Regarding a proposed African match Kennett said, "To be quite honest, I would rather my players, if they were asked, didn't go on the trip", also stating "trips to South Africa are just a part of the gravy train".

The first point in which he is wrong is whether Australian football will be an international sport, because it simply already is. A sport does not have to be professional to have "made it". There are tens of thousands of players across dozens of countries. As Mtutu Hlomela pointed out in an open letter published on the AFL website, "I invite you to take some time in August to go and witness the AFL International Cup. It's a magnificent event that is full of colour and cultural diversity; things I think are great for the game. It will also show you how the game has grown internationally in the last decade despite minimal resources in some countries".

It was ironic that such an attack came from the President of a club that has invested in New Zealand and which is already yielding promising results, with Kiwi rookies Kurt Heatherly, Rhys Panui-Leth and Shem Tatupu already signed by the Hawks. It was also Kennett who not so long ago called for an AFL club to one day be based in NZ. Why can Australian football be successful in one country, or a series of countries around Oceania, but not others?

It was also ironic that Kennett chose to attack the AFL over the proposed African Games exhibition, because the AFL and AFL South Africa have nothing to do with the proposed match. The game is being pushed by Aussie Rules International, run primarily by its founder Brian Clarke (also ironically a Hawthorn fan). Clarke and the AFL have a long history of antagonism, so the idea that the AFL is being criticised for Clarke's match shows just how far off the mark Kennett was.

On top of all this, the reality is that it is not yet confirmed that the game will occur, given ARI's track record of events is mixed. Notable successes have been the Harmony Cup in Australia and the EU Cup in Europe, although a key figure in running the EU Cup was former ARI official Philip Porublev, who is now coordinating the Euro Cup for the EAFA / AFL Europe.

On the other hand, the World 9s in Melbourne never occurred (planned for several years ago), the 2011 Melbourne 9s seemed not to occur (happy to be corrected on that) nor did a 2011 EU Cup that was announced for the same weekend as the official EAFA / AFL Europe Euro Cup. This 'rival' tournament was reportedly to be hosted by the Netherlands, but when contacted for comment the Dutch Australian Football Association said they knew nothing of it, and Mr Clarke later told World Footy News that he had cancelled it and forgotten to remove it from his website. Other programs such as Aussie Rules UK ended abruptly. Presumably this new event will require external funding. We'll see which way the African exhibition goes, with it scheduled for September 3rd in Mozambique.

Now the truth of the matter appears to be that Kennett's main target was AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, labelling him a dictator, and international football was collateral damage. Given his misplaced attacks so far, one wonders if Kennett might simultaneously applaud and complain regardless of whether the match proceeds.