The AFL is a complex beast, a confusing game with an odd shaped ball that forever seeks to be a global sensation while barely garnering the majority of the interest in a country with a population of a small European nation.
The AFL is trying to expand and the AFLW started with a bang. China is the new frontier, New Zealand has been tried, and the introduction of hybrid styles like AFL X are planned.
All these bold ideas are the moves of a grounded, well established, dominant sport. But is it?
Forever looking to become ‘the ultimate sport’, the AFL doesn’t seem to have an identity of its own that it can be truly proud of. It is the kid at high school that floats from group to group looking to please everyone. In doing so, the kid conforms at will to the slightest hint of a derogatory comment.
The AFL, needs some self-confidence. Like the high school kid, it needs to drown out the negative voices that influence it, such as ‘x is a blight on the game’ and ‘this tactic will spell the end for player y’.
For years, the AFL has jumped at the loudest of voices and changed rule after rule for ‘the betterment of the game’. These voices unfortunately are generally outspoken media types or ex-players that are looking for a headline to further their own agenda rather than wanting what’s best for the game.
Meanwhile, the public, the paying public, the supporters of the game, are watching the sport they love being manipulated by people other than the AFL. The game they knew is now just a hybrid sport that will differ year on year unless the AFL can grow up, own its identity and drown out the negativity to become a bold and confident sport.
Year on year the altering of rules and interpretations has led to a community that believes if it can whinge and cry about a problem, then they may be able to force the AFL to conform to their wishes. A strong independent sporting body, wouldn’t allow its time honoured rules and regulations to be tinkered with, let alone be hotly debated night after night on television.
It’s time for the AFL to grow up. It’s scary, but it’s time, time to stop being worried about how it’s perceived and be self-confident. There is a ‘Rules of the Game Committee’ who debates if rules should be changed to make the sport better, however it’s major focus is changing rules instead of preserving the sanctity of the existing ones.
There is no doubt that a sport that refuses to change with the times will be left standing still. The safety of players is paramount and rules that prevent sliding at an opponent’s knees and the centre ruck circle have been important and effective.
However when vague rules which are difficult to adjudicate affect the very core of the sports unpredictable nature, the common fan is left scratching his head as to why their beloved sport is being tinkered with.
A sport that is bold enough and brave enough to back itself in will earn a lot more respect than the sport that constantly tries to appease everyone.
When that kid in high school leaves for the real world and realises that it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, he will find his identity. The derogatory comments won’t matter, the respect for his strength of character will increase.
It’s time for the AFL to do the same, because if the AFL can’t respect itself, nobody else will. Growth starts from within, get that right before you take over the world.