Plenty of issues to consider for Cup organisers
Thursday, August 09 2007 @ 07:46 AM ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
As we mentioned in Cup dates proposed as AFL ponders divisions, the AFL is considering inviting several teams from Melbourne's ethnic minorities to participate in the 2008 International Cup. The theory behind the proposal is that it will give footy a higher profile amongst these groups and help fast track their involvement in Aussie Rules. In other recent discussions, WFN put up the idea of having a women's competition too, but we've been advised it won't be on the cards for next year. One concern that has emerged, in terms of promotion, is the timing of the Cup so soon after the Beijing Olympics.
The addition of teams from several of Victoria's ethnic communities, most likely Sudanese, Somali and Vietnamese, is an intriguing extension to the Cups of the past. There has even been the suggestion of a combined Israeli-Palestinian team, though these are only initial ideas. The sides would enter on a special invitation basis to compete in the developing nations division. The AFL's Game Development department, responsible for both international and domestic development of the game, believes that by providing such an opportunity it may fast track the development of those communities into Australian Football. This is just a preliminary proposal and will need to be carefully managed. There would be a risk of a Melbourne-Vietnam side being far too strong for some of the countries attending, and there is also the issue of the perception of what the Cup is all about. In the past the AFL has been keen to emphasise that the tournament is for players developed in their leagues overseas, not expatriate Australians, so they would need to be careful to make it clear that there are only two or three local sides, and that the majority of the Cup concept remains intact. This probably won't be too much of a difficulty with the separation between the premier and development divisions. It's also likely that local ethnic teams would have to satisfy similar criteria to those applied to the attending nations, so players with the specific ethnic background but who have grown up in Australia playing the game may not be eligible.
WFN did raise the possibility of also having a women's division at the Cup, or at least having a few women's teams attend for a couple of matches, but the AFL's Cup organiser Roger Berryman has advised that it isn't in the plans for 2008, but would be considered in the future. Currently it's difficult to think of more than two countries, besides Australia, that currently have significant full contact women's sides - the US and Canada (drop us an email if you know of any others). Even those competitions are very much in their infancy, as are youth programs for girls in Papua New Guinea and South Africa. So any inclusion at the International Cup would've been more as a first step to encourage additional countries to spread the sport amongst females. Hopefully by 2012 there will be a clear demand for a women's division. Meanwhile the US national women's side, dubbed the Freedom, are planning a tour Down Under during the '08 Cup regardless.
One drawback in promoting the Cup will be its timing relative to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Games will run from August 8th to 24th, ending just 3 days before the planned start of the Cup. Given the saturation level of media coverage the Olympics receive in Australia, including when the athletes return (normally with a swag of gold medals), finding room in Melbourne's sports pages for international footy will be harder than ever. This will make the AFL's promotion of the event all the more critical, so hopefully it will be a strong theme throughout 2008 as one of the highlights of the 150 celebrations of Australian Football. With the AFL finals series also getting underway around the same time, the likely return of State of Origin, and International Rules not yet ruled out, the 2008 calendar is likely to be the busiest yet for footy in Melbourne.