The Roar exclusive: Last night, the AFL launched our 2012 Toyota AFL premiership season in the heart of Sydney, and the first game of our year will be played at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night between the newly-formed GWS Giants and their established local rival, the Sydney Swans.
You might ask why?
It’s fascinating to note that one of those who developed our game, from its rugby beginnings, was born in NSW – Tom Wills.
Greg De Moore, an inaugural member of the GWS advisory board, wrote the definitive biography of Wills in 2008, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Australian football, and described Wills thus in an essay written on the launch of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, in 2010:
“Sometimes it is the peculiar individual who tilts, ever so slightly, our view of the world, and so affords us an opportunity to see patterns and meaning where previously we had seen none. Wills was such a man.”
For so long, Australian football was a local game, a state-based organisation driven from Melbourne, but with powerful cells in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory.
During that period, NSW and Queensland were never part of the plan to make Australian football Australia’s game. Times have changed.
The vision applied by my predecessors—in particular Allen Aylett in the 1970s and 1980s, and Jack Hamilton and Ross Oakley, and the AFL Commission of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as Wayne Jackson who did so much to consolidate their ideas and provide the AFL administration with the resources it needed to apply their strategic approach— has now made NSW and Queensland fundamental components of our national game.
The greater Sydney region is a melting pot of great cultures—those who have come to this city from all parts of Australia, and those who have come here from other lands—and it is also a melting pot of great sporting codes, Australian Football, Rugby League, Rugby, and soccer.
The arrival of the Giants, to join the Swans, is not an invasion, putting Australian Football ahead of those codes; of course we believe we are the greatest sport on the planet, but so too do those who love the rugby codes, and those who love the round ball game.
We have always believed we can not only co-exist in Sydney and Brisbane—as can the other sporting codes in Melbourne and Adelaide and Perth and Darwin—but that we can all flourish, presenting our codes to those who love the way we play our games.
And we know that there will be those who switch their colours from the Giants to the Rabbitohs and from the Rabbitohs to the Waratahs, and from the Waratahs to Sydney FC: all power to them.
The Sydney Swans have forged a place in the Sydney sporting landscape, as a respected team, and a great club with great leadership and perspective. I know the Giants will gain a similar foothold in the west of this city, no doubt creating a character and somewhat larrikin relationship with their fans based on the remarkable character of their coach and great trumpeter Kevin Sheedy.
There could be no better person to carry the colours in the west than Sheeds: 2012 will not just be about the NSW experience.
This is the launch of a season that promises so much, but will also have its usual number of challenges to confront and resolve.
Australian Football — and the AFL — understands well that we are not just a sporting code, but a member of the Australian community, with all the responsibilities that holds.
There has been much discussion recently about how our game must understand its responsibility to integrate young men from all sorts of cultures and socio-economic groups.
Of course, this is a selfish football issue—how to get the best out of young players drafted to succeed at the professional level—but it is more than that.
For decades the AFL has recognised its responsibility as a corporate citizen—as have the other major Australian sporting codes—and we will continue to do so.
As CEO, I promise that our connection to indigenous Australians, to new arrivals, to those who lack the opportunities that others among us may have had, is anything but rhetoric.
It is our commitment to assist in any way we can—to work with local, state and Federal Governments to apply the power of sport to create equal opportunity for all.
I know, in that regard, we have the support of Governments, but also we have the support of our wonderful sponsors, and corporate partners, and our media partners the Seven Network, Foxtel, Fox Sports, Telstra and News Limited to promote that aim.
Saturday night’s game will demonstrate to one and all that we have accepted the challenge to take the roads less travelled and to grow Australia’s Game across our great country.
I’m greatly looking forward to the journey ahead.
In this series of articles, John O’Neill (Australian Rugby Union), James Sutherland (Cricket Australia), David Gallop (NRL), Andrew Demetriou (AFL), and Ben Buckley (FFA – coming soon) all share with The Roar their thoughts on the year that was, or will be, for their respective codes.