A Sydney-based scribe has described the AFL’s move into Western Sydney as akin to the battle of Vietnam: a long, drawn-out and unconventional battle, without a clear winner or plausible exit strategy.
They believe the AFL will become bogged down financially for decades attempting to establish an AFL team in Western Sydney. There is no amount of not-so-well-meaning media and sporting types ready to gloat if the AFL engages and ends up with egg all over its face.
Vested interests abound as does straight out prejudice. What is objective or subjective opinion, who really knows?
Some of these folk believe the AFL is a arrogant for having the temerity to even consider an AFL team in Western Sydney and question the sport (Australian Rules football) being offered to kids in the region.
You have to question what crime is alleged to have been committed by the AFL here?
Others may wish to view the AFL’s push into Western Sydney as a slaughter of the troops Gallipoli style, as wave after wave of AFL money and personnel are exhausted creating a beachhead in the disparate western suburbs of Sydney.
Their belief is that the AFL will squander its wealth to the point of bankrupting the entire competition.
I would caution those in Sydney who think Collingwood, Essendon, Carlton, Hawthorn, Geelong, St Kilda, Adelaide, West Coast would simply disappear off the face of the earth if the AFL’s governing body faltered.
Or there is the Kokoda analogy, which the AFL has already hinted at, that would see the start date pushed back a few years to give the AFL time to retreat, gather its forces, and simply give its strategy some time to work by stretching out the supply lines of the enemy.
Seeing as rugby league has the most to lose according to fans and News Ltd media, it is the self-appointed victim. In all likelihood, the damage to rugby league would be minimal at spectator level, but naturally comes at some loss to kids who might be more suited to Australian Rules footy.
This is no different to the fact the rugby codes will eventually take kids suited their games in traditional Aussie Rules territory. AFL in Western Sydney will certainly not be fatal to rugby league by any stretch.
The AFL does not have a H bomb to declare instant victory.
It is a sport first and foremost, let’s not forget that.
So what does the AFL need to do to make Western Sydney work?
Fix the image of the governing body and sport in Sydney
AFL boss Andrew Demetriou fairly or unfairly comes across as arrogant. One has to question the thin skinned nature of those who take offence to AFL press releases and TV promotion, but the reality is that the perception is quite embedded now and no doubt cloaked in a veil of good ol’ Sydney Vs Melbourne rivalry; a power struggle of cultures that has been going on for over 100 years.
Continue to build at grass roots
Push heavily on Auskick, developing local competitions, and chip away at building a rivalry with the Swans, Easts Vs Wests, and so on. Like the Gold Coast, local Australian Rules competitions create the base and eventually the need for a representative team in the national league. Western Sydney, from any objective analysis, lacks this currently.
When a bid for the Western Sydney licence emerges, it could mark the turning of the tide of opinion for the AFL in Western Sydney. What is almost mandatory is the bidder group(s) have been able to draw local quality people and grass roots Aussie Rules folk to literally make sure this is Western Sydney, not a franchise type team.
The AFL must not short-change this aspect. If Western Sydney is not ready, they must not allow the allure of a new TV deal to cloud their judgment.
In the short two or three year time period when both the Gold Coast and Western Sydney expansion teams were conceived, other markets for player talent and teams have emerged.
Tasmania would get a team up and running by 2012 if the TV execs want Monday Night Football that desperately.
The AFL should also not ignore PNG, Northern Queensland, and even smaller markets like New Zealand and the Pacific Islands in its push to grow the talent base of the code.
In other words, Western Sydney is not everything to the code’s future. It is becoming increasingly apparent that opportunities to grow the game are opening up all the time.