Clubs should revel in race for the bottom
Tom Scully of the Giants is tackled by Daniel Nicholson of the Demons (Photo: Slattery Images)
It was most disturbing to learn this week that the AFL will be investigating claims that tanking may have occurred in previous seasons.
Really? Tanking? Well, that’s a serious problem!
What about incorrect umpiring decisions? Do you think they might be occurring too? I wonder if sometimes footballers get drunk – we should look into that possibility.
And what about staging for free kicks: do players ever do that? I wonder. I mean I guess it’s always possible.
Frankly the news that the Melbourne Demons may have been tanking in 2009 was the most shocking revelation I have heard since the day I found out that Jason Akermanis is quite outspoken.
It hit me like a ton of bricks – to think that professional sporting clubs would engage in underhand tactics in order to gain an advantage was flabbergasting.
It’s great that the AFL is launching another investigation though, since their last investigation into tanking was so thorough and effective that it found that Demons hadn’t ever tanked, even after Dean Bailey practically hung a sign around his neck reading “Will Lose For Food”.
The AFL conducting an investigation into tanking is a bit like a parliamentary inquiry into whether Question Time can get a bit adversarial; an accurate conclusion could be reached a lot faster and cheaper if everyone involved just banged their heads on a table until the bleeding obvious managed to penetrate their skulls.
Maybe it is time for Andrew Demetriou and Adrian Anderson to examine what might be called the underlying logic of the AFL competition.
At the end of the season lies a reward – the premiership. When a reward is on offer, people will tend to try their best to get that reward. This is why football teams try to win.
There is another reward at the end of the season too – draft picks. And again, when a reward is on offer, people will try their best to get it. This is why football teams try to lose.
Somehow this is a bit too complex for the eggheads at AFL House to grasp. Probably because they really do love their draft system and that is fair enough – it is a noble system and it has been excellent at keeping the competition even.
But why keep denying the obvious? As long as there is a benefit to finishing last instead of 10th, there will be tanking. And I say the AFL should embrace it.
Let’s encourage clubs, once their finals hopes are gone, to tank. Let’s make tanking an artform. Let’s revel in that most primal and brutal struggle of all – the struggle of high-performance professional athletes attempting to lose to each other.
Can you imagine the thrill of watching two teams do battle when neither wants to win? The backwards kicking, the deliberate fumbling, the tears streaming down the cheeks of the youngster who, in a panic, inadvertently kicks a goal?
Every round would become a beguiling mixture of hard, tough, uncompromising footballing excellence and surrealistic performance art. Teams striving for victory would be nestled alongside those striving for defeat.
No more would teams have to hide their tanking in shame, meeting in dark basements and shady alleyways to discuss their plans.
They could openly and proudly come out and discuss their tactics for the weekend, about how they hope their midfield can manage to get their hands on the ball second, and how their back six is really coming together as a disconnected group of selfish individuals.
And finally, fans of tanking teams could go along to the game and openly cheer for their side’s failures, urging their heroes on to ever greater feats of ineptitude and stupidity.
The second half of the season need not be a barren wasteland for half a dozen teams and their supporters. It can become a riveting drama, a compelling battle to finish last, with no quarter asked and none taken.
Let’s cast off the chains of conventionality. Tanking happens and is going to happen, so we might as well enjoy it.
It’s time to give the long-suffering fans of the cellar-dwellers something to get excited about. It’s time for all football fans to join the race to the bottom.
Ben Pobjie is a writer and comedian writing weekly on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short the day he stopped playing rugby and had a pizza instead. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys the frolics of Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms. Ben is also the author of the books Surveying the Wreckage, Superchef, and his latest, The Book of Bloke, available from Momentum Books.
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