Contributed by: Brett Northey
There have been a lot of questions floating around about what direction the Australian Football League will take regarding international development of Australian Football. In recent years they have been slowly building their commitment, in-line with the benefits that can clearly be seen, such as growing player numbers and a much improved standard at the last International Cup. But there have also been doubts and rumours of changes. worldfootynews.com is pleased to present a detailed interview with Kevin Sheehan, the AFL's Talent Manager, now incorporating the role of International Manager.
The following interview was conducted by email. Coincidentally it was concluded as the AFL released its draft plans on international development to its affiliates for comment. The plans include further exciting possibilities which we will bring to you shortly, once we've confirmed they are intended for public viewing.
WFN: It's been 10 months since the second International Cup finished, with New Zealand defeating PNG in a high standard match. Everyone agreed the quality was well up on 2002 and the international concept is gaining ground. My understanding is that after the tournament the AFL wound up the International Development Committee, and the AFL wants to involve countries in the regular AFL programs more like other Australian affiliates. Can you explain when the windup happened and the rationale behind it? Is there a danger that overseas leagues have lost a means of being heard?
Kevin: Quite the contrary the AFL has given considerable attention to the next phase of International Development. In February a discussion paper was prepared for the AFL Executive and AFL Commission on the “AFL International Strategy” which was well received and debated. As part of the way forward it was recommended that the AFL take an overall organizational approach to International Strategy rather than it being purely part of AFL Game Development department. As a result a new “International Development Committee” has been formed with representation from all departments of the AFL with managers in AFL Football Operations, AFL Business and Legal Affairs, AFL Commercial Operations, AFL Marketing and Communications as well as AFL Game Development taking on responsibility. The former “International Development Committee” which had the responsibility primarily to assist in the development of the “International Cup” will be reconvened shortly with its focus on the conduct of the “International Cup” in 2008 – to coincide with the celebration of Australian Football’s 150th year.
WFN: The AFL has a budget for international football development of about AU$500,000 pa. My understanding is that in recent years the AFL have decided to focus that investment on several countries, primarily New Zealand, South Africa and PNG, hoping to fast-track them. Obviously many other countries would like a bigger share, but the argument is pretty simple - if the budget is spread too thinly then perhaps all that will be achieved is very small unstable gains in many countries. I'm guessing the AFL Commission wants to see if really good results can be obtained for a few nations, meaning ultimately draft picks for AFL clubs, which in turn will gain their support for the process. Is that how you see it?
Kevin: Your overall assessment isn’t far off the mark. No doubt the largest number of participants playing the game at senior and junior levels are involved with our nearest neighbours in PNG, New Zealand and South Africa. And that’s where we currently invest the most. But it's not just financial support our affiliates are seeking. During last years International Cup a meeting of key affiliate personnel clearly indicated to the AFL it was seeking human resource support and training for its administrators and coaches and development opportunities for their players. We’re interested in providing all of that for all AFL affiliated countries and as a result are currently reviewing each country’s position to establish the best fit for our resources.
WFN: Your role is AFL Talent Manager, which is a pretty wide portfolio. That now includes the international affiliates. Since the new TV deal was done there has been a frenzy of bidding for the money, from AFL club CEOs to players to calls for more to be spent on grass-roots footy. Is there a voice in there representing the international football community? Is there much likelihood of even a modest increase in the funding?
Kevin: As you suggested my portfolio has expanded from National Talent Manager to include International Strategy Manager – something I’m excited about and have a passion for. You can be assured that the AFL Commission and Executive team will be well aware of the needs and potential for International Growth. David Matthews – the General Manager of AFL Game Development – chairs our International Development Committee, shares the passion and has led the debate on the AFL’s International Strategy. He will continue to put the case for an increase in focus and resources for International Development.
WFN: A number of countries have affiliations with the AFL - the ten nations that attended the 2005 International Cup, and also Denmark, Nauru and Germany. Is that correct?
Kevin: Participants in the 2005 International Cup were of course New Zealand (winner), PNG, Samoa, Japan, Canada, USA, Great Britain, Spain, South Africa and Ireland. Nauru and Denmark participated in 2002 and we’ve also had some expressions of interest from the likes of Germany, Singapore, China and India, and the Philippines. Former Victorian Sport Minister and Melbourne Football Club champion Brian Dixon, a longtime supporter of the AFL’s push internationally, will continue to assist the AFL in developing opportunities through his International Network as Treasurer of the TAFISA (Trim and Fitness International Sport for all Association).
WFN: There have been reports of delays in funding being approved for this year for some countries. If that is the case, is it due to the re-structure within the AFL or do some programs face cutbacks?
Kevin: All countries have been advised of funding arrangements for 2006 in May due in part to the restructure.
(WFN can confirm that some issues we were aware of have since been settled).
WFN: What of other countries that have small footy programs? Are there procedures that would allow them to affiliate with the AFL and access small amounts of funding to help them get established? Growing programs not yet signed up like Tonga, Sweden and France come to mind.
Kevin: Expressions of interest in affiliation from any country where the AFL game is played will be considered on their merits. The most recent interest hails from Fiji where the Commissioner of Police Andrew Hughes has approached the AFL expressing the view that the game could find a niche in Fiji. We will explore all opportunities and provide appropriate support.
WFN: Still on the funding issue, obviously New South Wales and Queensland are the medium-term imperatives for the AFL, and if the AFL can capture an even larger share of those markets the game's future will be assured. What of the international dimension? Annecdotal evidence suggests that an important part of influencing youngsters in non-traditional footy states is for them to see the game as wider than just Australia, and with the opportunity to play for their country. No doubt this is a big factor in the International Rules series, both at senior and junior level. Is the improving international footy situation recognised within the AFL as a potential asset to continuing the game's growth in Queensland and NSW?
Kevin: There’s no doubt the AFL’s number one objective is to develop the game to its full potential in all states and territories of Australia and particularly in the emerging AFL markets in NSW/ACT and Queensland. But the new horizon is the emerging interest in other countries and it’s proposed the AFL release its vision for the future very shortly.
Part two of the interview will follow later.
World Footy News