Contributed by: Jake AnsonA recent interview with the AFL's Ed Biggs reveals their plans for international Australian football and their thoughts on the IAFC.
The following telephone interview was conducted on 11/06/2004 with Ed Biggs, the AFL's Community Development Manager.
worldfootynews.com: In requiring international leagues to affiliate with the AFL in order to receive funding, does the AFL view its role in the game as similar to that of FIFA’s role in governing soccer, or the IRB in its governance of rugby union?
AFL: Yes. The AFL sees many similarities between the role of these organisations and its tole in Australian football, bearing in mind that football is in a very undeveloped state in almost all areas overseas. The AFL views itself as the "keeper of the code" so to speak.
worldfootynews.com: In bodies such as FIFA, each affiliated country has theoretically equal input into the sport’s direction. By requiring international leagues to affiliate with the AFL, is the league somewhat hampering development overseas, in that it can allocate the lion’s share of funding to Australia, at the expense of development overseas?
AFL: The AFL doesn't see areas overseas as being anywhere near developed-enough to necessitate equal funding overseas. Our priority is obviously the development of the code in Queensland and New South Wales in the intermediate future, and I can't see the need for an international football body for at least the next 50 years.
worldfootynews.com: Which countries fall into Category A of the AFL’s funding priorities?
AFL: Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and South Africa; and to a lesser extent the United States.
worldfootynews.com: Papua New Guinea falls under the development arm of the AFLQ. How does this affect PNG in relation to funding by the league?
AFL: The situation with PNG and AFLQ is more in relation to talent pathways. We're aiming to include PNG sides in Queensland carnivals such as the Under 16 champtionships to give the players there a pathway to AFL level and higher levels of the game.
worldfootynews.com: In the past, the AFL and its predecessor the VFL staged a number of games overseas each year, with matches at locations such as Toronto drawing crowds upwards of 20,000. Do you foresee the AFL scheduling regular games overseas, perhaps initially in countries like New Zealand, as a way to raise awareness of the sport and assist development?
AFL: No, we can't see that happening in the immediate future. Clubs hold exhibition games overseas at the end of the year; perhaps you heard Collingwood played last season in London. A number of factors make it difficult to organise games - clubs have contracts with venues guaranteeing a number of games each year, and financal issues make it difficult to fund trips overseas. But the main reason is the commitments clubs already have in Australia - there aren't many 'free' games.
worldfootynews.com: Would you like to see that occur, if sponsors or financial backers were available to help alleviate the costs of such a move?
AFL: I'm not sure, it's something that we'd have to look at if someone came forward offering to assist financially. But, yes, I think it's something that would be looked at.
worldfootynews.com: Very little media coverage is devoted to international football. Will the AFL look at increasing its online coverage of international leagues so that they are more widely exposed?
AFL: Media coverage is down to the media itself. International leagues are not at a high level of competition; they are comparable to local district leagues here. The media is only interested in them in novelty situations - like the international cup. International leagues were asked last month (May 2004) to upgrade the information on their own websites and link it to media sources as a way of increasing their coverage.
worldfootynews.com: Prime Television in New Zealand is now televising full AFL matches on a weekly basis across much of the country. Does the AFL have any plans for a publicity campaign to attract more New Zealanders to the leagues across the country?
AFL: New Zealand's outstanding success has been in the school system - at present we can't meet the demand for football there. Prime TV's coverage is very good for football in New Zealand. The problem is a lack of commited volunteers to operate local clubs on the ground in the country.
worldfootynews.com: The International Australian Football Council functions independently of the AFL, promoting the game in countries not affiliated to the AFL due to the AFL’s ruling that affiliated bodies mustn’t cooperate with unsanctioned football development bodies. Is it in the best interests of the sport to have the AFL and the IAFC working independently towards the same goal, and not co-operating with one another?
AFL: First of all, the AFL has never ruled that affiliated bodies cannot cooperate with other bodies. But the answer to the question is no, it's not in our best interests. We believe the IAFC plays a negative role in football development. The AFL in discussion with international leagues has stated a wish to end confusion surrounding dual organisations developing the game overseas.
worldfootynews.com: Do you think a better scenario would see the IAFC promote grassroots football overseas, while the AFL assumes a guiding role in organising international matches, TV exposure and administrative assistance to international leagues?
AFL: No. All the IAFC does is create confusion. Brian is critical of the AFL's development proceedures, but he never states what he thinks is good development. The (AFL/international league) vote sent the message that international leagues want an end to confusion surrounding dual organisations developing footy.
worldfootynews.com: Where would the AFL like to see the international football situation in 2020?
AFL: It's not really for me to say. [When prompted: ] I guess the AFL is comfortable with where it is at the moment. The AFL development plans state that Queensland and New South Wales are our priority. In 2010 our current plan is scheduled to be reassessed - up until then we're happy with where we are.
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