Image for Show Tassie some respect ...

Dear Gil,

            You strike me as a decent bloke. I take your expressions of concern to do with community football to be genuine. So, ahead of the AFL Commission’s meeting in Hobart on Friday, there’s a couple of things you should know.

The first of these is that Tasmanians aren’t mugs. You said last week ( The Age here ) that Tasmania is “too poor” to have its own AFL team. Half the clubs in the AFL are “too poor” to be in the national competition.  These clubs are only in the AFL because the AFL subsidises them.

So the question is not whether places are “too poor” to have a team – the question is whether the AFL chooses to subsidise them and why. And we all know why the AFL has not chosen to subsidise a Tasmanian team in the AFL – because, as a television market, from the AFL’s viewpoint, Tasmania is assured. Tasmanians will watch AFL football on TV whether they have a team or not.

As a principle of justice, Tasmania, as one of the foundation states of the game, is entitled to be represented in the national competition. But I am not as passionate about that as I am about a more elementary matter – the health of the game in my home state. Here is a small story to illustrate my point. In July, when I was in Hobart for a family birthday, I caught the local news on commercial TV. The sport section led with soccer – not the EPL, not the A-league. That is, Tasmanian soccer was deemed more newsworthy than Tasmanian football.

What does this mean in practical terms? The top level of football in Tasmania is called the Tasmanian Statewide League (TSL).  One TSL club president told me the profile of the competition is now so low his club struggles to get sponsorships. This year, as a league, the TSL has no cash sponsors. There is only “in kind” sponsorship which means there is no money returning to the clubs, two of whom do not even have reserves teams or, as they are known in Tasmania, development teams.

The AFL has taken to styling itself as an “industry”. In industrial terms, the recent history of Tasmanian football is that it has been ruthlessly harvested for its most precious resource – its young talent, its potential AFL draftees.

But it’s happened at a cost, Gil. In the words of one TSL club president, “Tasmanian football is a pretty sick eco-system at the moment”. That club president won’t be named.  On a previous occasion, when he objected to an initiative of AFL Tasmania, he was told his club could be relegated to a minor league and a franchise put in its place. In the context of what has happened in Tasmania recently, these are not empty words.

North Hobart Football Club has a place not only in Tasmanian but Australian football history. It now plays as the Hobart City Demons because AFL Tasmania deemed it no longer represented the growth areas in the Hobart metropolis. Precisely the same argument could be mounted to rename Richmond the Melbourne City Tigers. How do you reckon you would go selling that one to the Tigers fans, Gil? The truth is no-one in your position would dare.  Why does the Tassie footy community have less rights than their Victorian counterparts?

North Launceston won the TSL premiership last year. This year, their gates are down 50 per cent. When AFL Tasmania effectively replaced another of the State’s old clubs, South Launceston, with a franchise a few kms away called Western Storm, North Launceston queried the business plan put forward by AFL Tasmania. Now two years later, Western Storm is, to quote North Launceston president Thane Brady, “in a mess” with negative consequences for the other TSL teams.

Brady is one president who is prepared to speak out. “The TSL football product is excellent but the clubs are getting by on the smell of an oily rag and have no say in policy decisions to do with Tasmanian football”.  Like the other TSL clubs, North Launceston receives $100,000 from AFL Tasmania for programs approved by AFL Tasmania. Brady says his club requires an annual turnover of $600,000 to compete.

With the $2.5 billion broadcast deal, the AFL is flush with funds but it wasn’t exactly poor beforehand so perhaps, Gil, you can explain a couple of things to me.  In 2011, when the ABC demanded an additional $50,000 to fund live TV coverage of TSL matches, AFL Tasmania asked each TSL club to contribute. AFL Tasmania claimed it could not afford to foot the bill. Gil, do you believe the AFL could not have afforded a measure so directly in the interests of the game at a grassroots level?

In August, AFL Tasmania proposed imposing an annual participation levy on every footballer in Tasmania to support a body it’s setting up called the Tasmanian Football Council which would represent all Tasmanian football clubs except those in the TSL. Why? What is going on here? And how is it in the interests of the game? Former trade unionist Bill Kelty is, I understand, conducting an investigation of footy at a grassroots level. Tasmania needs to be his first stop. 

The AFL treats Tasmania like a colony. There’s got to be an end to policies imposed from above by football bureaucrats. The AFL has to start talking to the people in Tasmania who are the blood and sinew of the game. It’s called showing some respect, Gil.

First published in the Saturday Age as: An open letter to AFL boss Gil McLachlan: show Tassie some respect

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times ...

Hodgman Liberals Back Football Over Public Services

Tom Ellison, HAWTHORN: It’s a con. A fraud

• Anthony John in Comments: Of all the injustices and indignities heaped on this State by inept, vision-less clowns masquerading as political and business leaders, denying us our own team in a so-called national competition, ranks with the worst in recent times - and there have been some stinkers! Dudded by snake-oil salesmen from the AFL, and other vested interests, those responsible continue to disrespect the people by advancing spurious reasons why the status quo is to remain. We need more people like Martin Flanagan going in to bat for a fair go for the Tasmanian people. There is no better time than now for us all, football fans or not, to make our voices heard on this iniquity.