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The astonishing funding gap between rugby and football: Will Aussie politicians ever give round ball code a fair go?

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Expert
19th September, 2021
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Why is it no surprise to anyone who plays or watches football in Queensland that the sport receives a fraction of the infrastructure funding rugby union gets with far fewer participants?

Hats off to rugby, which has always done well from its vast network of private school old boys, some of whom go on to positions of influence within the Australian business world.

Plenty of those powerbrokers rubbed shoulders with Aussie politicians during their formative years at some of the nation’s most exclusive schools, so it’s no real surprise to see rugby enjoy the largesse of such decision-makers.

But whether the 15-man codes deserve such a disproportionate slice of the infrastructure funding pie compared to a sport like football – which has more players at every level, including the women’s game – should be a matter for debate.

That’s not to disparage rugby – or even the AFL, which receives plenty of government support alongside its lucrative broadcast deals.

But at some point we need to have a frank discussion about whether football gets a fair go from politicians across the country.

The issue came to light on Friday when Football Queensland shared an infographic across its social channels claiming that football in Queensland receives just “$47.97 per participant in infrastructure investment” to support “more than 180,000 participants across the state”.

That figure pales in comparison to the $383.23 Football Queensland says the AFL receives and the whopping $655.27 per participant in infrastructure investment rugby union is said to bring in.

It should be pointed out Football Queensland’s stats seem a little light on details, not least the time period they’re supposed to have occurred in and whether the participation rates for each sport are entirely accurate.

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Plenty of observers in the sunshine state might also be wondering whether Football Queensland, of all governing bodies, should be doling out lectures on good governance in the first place.

At any rate, they felt sufficiently aggrieved to tag Stirling Hinchliffe, the Minister for Sport, and Shannon Fentiman, the Minister for Women, and promised to “continue to highlight the critical need for investment in football here in Queensland as we look ahead to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023”.

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And the Women’s World Cup undoubtedly offers Queensland its best chance of finally closing the infrastructure gap and building some much-needed facilities.

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Yet this would be the same state government, of course, that didn’t bat an eyelid when three-time A-League champions Brisbane Roar – a team that won all three of those championships in front of more than 50,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium – left the state-run facility to move to the considerably cheaper confines of Moreton Daily Stadium in Redcliffe.

I’ve long suspected one of the main reasons Australian politicians pay football such short shrift is because they understand neither the sport nor the people who are passionate about it.

Why risk getting into a debate about infrastructure funding with a typically fired-up football fan when it’s easier to simply pose for a photo opportunity outside BB Print Stadium in Mackay with some grateful locals the next time the NRL moves a couple money-spinning finals games there?

But as much as our politicians appear to go out of their way to avoid engaging with football, it’s not like the game does itself many favours.

Rightly or wrongly, there’s always been a perception among outside observers that football is a chaotically run, factionally riven code at the best of times.

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Frank Lowy bridged the political divide for a while, but even he threw in the towel after Australia’s disastrous bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

A co-hosted Women’s World Cup in 2023 is no small consolation, but unlike the 2000 Olympics – which saw the Gabba upgraded for football, only for the AFL to enjoy the gains – this is an opportunity that cannot be squandered.

There are clubs across Queensland that don’t even have women’s changing rooms.

And with the World Cup less than two years away, it only seems fair to ask: is this finally the time our politicians give football a fair go?

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