First things first, I’ll put it on the table. I’m a West Australian and I do entertain the AFL’s perceived Vic bias from time to time. It is a pastime over here.
However, I’ll also say that I believe the AFL got it correct when they made last week’s call to not permit WA clubs to resume group training before the rest of the clubs.
It might have seemed minor, but it was a black-and-white issue, where WA clubs would’ve clearly gained an advantage on the rest through no fault of their own.
Counter arguments citing WA clubs’ heavy burden of travel were venturing down a separate path altogether. We cannot start trading off inequalities in pursuit of fairness. Like the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.
But all that’s on the AFL’s proviso of fairness. They can’t apply that value one day and overlook it the next.
That’s important because there’s a big storm brewing in the west after premier Mark McGowan’s hard borders declaration, which will test the AFL’s resolve to uphold the value of fairness and, ultimately, the integrity of the competition.
The format of a resumed AFL season seems to be changing on a weekly basis. We’ve gone from hubs to a home-and-away season in the space of a few days. A few bad days of COVID-19 cases and that may change again rapidly.
But as things stand, WA’s two clubs are staring down the possibility of becoming the AFL’s version of the NZ Warriors, due to the big state’s hard border and mandatory 14-day quarantine period, which will make it unfeasible to host games in WA and only viable to play on the eastern seaboard by relocating for a long period of time.
All the while, the other 16 clubs in the competition (assuming SA opens its borders in the next few weeks after reaching two weeks with zero new cases) will have open borders, thus able to compete on a fly-in fly-out home-and-away basis. They’ll be able to sleep in their own homes, live with their families, train at their club HQ, and go to their preferred coffee shops.
If ever there was an unfair scenario, that would be it.
For the Eagles, who are in the prime of their premiership window fresh from the recruitment of Tim Kelly, it’d be a savage handicap.
So only days after the issue of fairness – or “competitive equalisation measures” as AFL football boss Steve Hocking labelled them – prevented the WA clubs from getting a small advantage by returning to their mini pre-seasons in groups of ten earlier than the rest, the AFL might need to address a much larger issue of integrity.
The problem is there’s no easy fix for the two WA clubs in this scenario and the AFL will want to get footy underway as soon as reasonably possible.
It’s unlikely the AFL will explore hubs in WA given the hefty quarantine restrictions, which will require more mini pre-seasons to overcome. It’s also unlikely the AFL will wait for WA to remove its hard borders, which on the evidence of McGowan’s press conference on Wednesday, will remain up for some time, likely to protect the state’s lucrative mining industry.
There are no fair options for the WA clubs in the current environment if the AFL forges ahead with their fly-in fly-out home-and-away plans.
The AFL may consider there’s only two WA clubs, they’re in the minority and they’re far away, so out of sight, out of mind. It’s a small price to pay, right?
Or will the AFL acknowledge they cannot actually achieve the fairness they reverted to last week as fundamental to the 2020 season and return to exploring the hubs option, where all clubs will be in the same boat, or hotel?
I know what the AFL would be doing if the shoe was on the other foot and the ten Victorian clubs were facing the same dilemma as the two WA clubs.
We all understand the AFL needs to resume the 2020 season as soon as reasonably possible to get dollars back in the game, but will it be at the expense of the fairness and integrity they trumpeted last week?
If they do, it’ll only fuel the Vic bias.