Many Australians, some would say, are fanatical about their sport, both as participants and as spectators. Perhaps this is why early Australian settlers devised their own spectacular game, which on a per capita basis, has to be the most watched sport in the world.
The Victorian city of Melbourne has been the nest of Australian Rules football, and is still its bastion, dominating the other states. Each state developed its own club based competition but with the Victorian Football League (VFL) enjoying easily the highest standard of play, games between the states have tended to be one-sided, demoralizing for the less powerful states, and lacking in challenge for the Victorian teams. This is a shame as AFL has not taken on elsewhere, and club football fails to exploit state rivalry in the way state games can.
I do not wish to knock the wonderful support that Victorians provide not only for Australian Rules football, but for almost every conceivable sport, including Rugby. I suspect however that with control firmly ensconced in parochial Victorian hands, present arrangements may be counter-productive to growth of the sport.
By way of illustration, when the Victorian hierarchy decided it was time to create a national competition it did so unilaterally to avoid weakening the standard of Victorian Football. The Australian Football League (AFL) was formed from the existing Victorian Football League (VFL) teams and remained in essence a Victorian competition.
Two Melbourne teams were arbitrarily relocated to the NSW and Queensland Rugby States, and over several years two Western Australian and two South Australian Teams were added. The most recent additions to the AFL have been second clubs in NSW and Queensland where support for the game does seem to be growing.
The competition is still firmly biased toward Melbourne with 10 teams, compared with just 8 from other the other states.
The player draft system limits the concentration of football talent in a few better endowed clubs. It also provides interstate teams with access to the Melbourne player pool, but may advantage the Melbourne teams even more, since the ten Victorian sides have a numerically greater chance to bid for interstate talent (10 to 6). Then too many Victorians drafted interstate seek to return home to Victoria at their earliest opportunity.
Players would dearly love to have the honour of representing their state, but the AFL argues that there is no room in a crowded calendar of club football for interstate games, and that the interstate clubs provide for interstate competition anyway.
To compensate players for the lack of representative football after the AFL was created in 1991, the administration introduced a way to honour the most able players in the league. Each year at season end, a selection panel chooses an honorary national team with the coach of the premiership team being the nominal coach of this All-Australian Team.
Since 2005 international games have been possible with Ireland playing matches with hybrid rules. Since 2014 only players previously chosen for an All-Australian Team are selected for these games. This at least provides credibility for those who then play real representative football for their country.
Unfortunately the present consensus of opinion is that it is just not practical to play state games when the home and away club season yields income from public admission and the TV rights on nine games per round.
Aussie Rules: The world’s best spectator football code, but the only one that lacks genuine representative play at state and national level.
It fails to tap into the natural interstate rivalries that might well promote the game’s wider adoption.
For sixteen years the only state representative game has been a one-off “Hall of Fame Tribute Match” marking the game’s 150th anniversary in May 2008 between Victoria and The Dream Team representing non-Victorians. Guess who won!!