The decision by the AFL to develop a bushfire relief response should be applauded.
Australia has suffered through some of the most devastating bushfires in living memory, causing loss of life, wildlife, homes and more. As a community, we should be proud of the AFL for wanting to support the people, communities and agencies affected by these disasters.
But here’s the but: the State of Origin for bushfire relief match is not State of Origin.
I fully support the AFL’s decision to raise funds for bushfire relief, but it’s not Western Australia versus Victoria at Subiaco Oval. It’s not Ted Whitten at the MCG.
Sure, players from Victoria get to represent their state, but not all of those who deserve an opportunity will get that opportunity. The teams will not be selected purely on merit.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, State of Origin provided the most elite and fierce games of Australian rules football you could find.
On 8 October 1977, the first ever State of Origin match of any sort was played between Victoria and Western Australia at Subiaco Oval.
Sadly, the passion exhibited in those early clashes is now owned by Queensland and New South Wales, and rugby league. The AFL has lost the plot.
The passion that players and coaches like Basil Campbell, Ted Whitten and Mal Brown brought to these spectacles is legendary. Why?
To represent your state is the highest honour a player can earn. Players represented their state, not an amalgamation of states. It still means something. Give it back to the players and the fans, see what happens, but not like this.
To call a game State of Origin when the players will clearly be focusing on self preservation – just like the NBA All-Star game where nobody defends – is insulting to every player that has ever played State of Origin.
To hand a State of Origin jersey to a player – albeit one that might say Allies – is insulting to every player that earned the honour of representing their state.
If the AFL wants to honour the integrity of the game of Australian rules football, then please call this a charity all-star match.
Gillon McLachlan has already insulted so many fans in Australia by sealing a long-term deal for the AFL grand final to be held at the MCG every year until 2057.
He has got so much wrong by locking in such an extended contract for the grand final. The greatest spectacles in world club sports are the Super Bowl and the UEFA Champions League final.
Are they held every year in the same city? No. They travel the USA (to the highest bidder) and Europe, but it allows fans that don’t live in one specific city the opportunity to attend the event.
It’s not about getting as many fans as possible in the stadium, as the income generated is always dominated by broadcast deals and not bums on seats. This is about all fans, not just the ones in Victoria.
If Gillon McLachlan wants to leave the AFL in a better state than he found it, now is his time. Now is his chance to leave a legacy. Start with preserving State of Origin.
Or is it too late?