Contributed by: Brett Northey
Other than a few breakout countries like South Africa and Papua New Guinea, growth in Australian Football around the world has generally been steady but not explosive. Simply building awareness of the code or its elite league, the AFL, is a difficult task. All the while the AFL and the people at grassroots have battled the perception of the game as violent. Ironically, in one swing Sydney's Barry Hall has put the sport onto the headlines (good) but for all the wrong reasons (so probably bad).
Here's some examples from Denmark and the United States.
From Denmark we're told that, despite the local DAFL, Aussie Rules never makes it into mainstream media. So supporters were surprised to see two articles highlighting Hall's knockout hit on West Coast's Brent Staker.
In B.T. there was Se video: Knock out i australsk fodbold. An approximate English translation is:
See the video: Knockout in Australian Football
Big Bad Barry Hall, who weighs 100 kilo, sent an opponent to the ground with a left hook over the weekend, and even though Australian Football is a rough sport, this was just a bit too much. Big Bad Barry is a nickname - the surname is Hall - and he is known as one of the most violent forwards in Australian Football. (Our Danish language guru tells us that "Angribere" means "attackers" but it is used in Danish to refer to "forwards" in soccer. In this context, they could have meant either).
The Sydney Swans forward lost his mind on the weekend, when he thought the attention was a bit too much, and so Brent Staker of the West Coast Eagles was about to lose consciousness.
Barry Hall broke his right hand shortly after the incident, when some of Staker's teammates remonstrated with the big bad forward. (This is factually incorrect but it's what they've written). Barry Hall was a rather promising boxer in his youth before he took on the sleeveless guernsey, and after seeing the weekend's left hook you can understand why. Right now it is being decided how much of a penatly he will get for the clenched fist, which doctors have described as potentially life-threatening. (Staker was not seriously hurt, doctors were simply pointing out that any big punch has the potential to kill).
Another Danish article was Syv ugers karantæne for kæberasler in Ekstrabladet, and translates as:
Seven week suspension for jaw-rattler
Australian Football is for men who know how to use their muscles, but Barry Hall went too far when he put an opponent down for the count - see the jaw-rattler here.
It's going to cost Barry Hall of the Sydney Swans seven weeks' suspension, that last Saturday he put Brent Staker of West Coast down for the count with a jaw-rattler in a game of Australian Football.
On Tuesday evening, Hall stood at attention during a rather emotional hearing, and gave various apologies for the episode. But it wasn't much help. After just eight minutes of deliberation, he was given seven weeks' suspension.
West Coast's doctor, Gerard Taylor, explained during the hearing, that Stakes couldn't remember the last few seconds before he was hit, but could first recall that "he was sitting on the bench next to me". (Presumably referring to the doctor).
And our writer Sean reports that across in the US the Hall incident also made the news:
One of the rare times Australian Rules footage has featured at all on ESPN or (mainstream) American television in decades was for the controversy surrounding Big Bad Barry's moment of madness. Whether this sort of exposure is a good or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. There is no doubt that North Americans have a well publicized fascination for violent sports like gridiron and ice hockey, however few American contact sports are played without extensive padding. Even boxers at the very least wear gloves.
Several media commentators are hailing this event as one of the breakthroughs of the code in Sydney, including the tabloid Crikey with its article "Barry Hall, the problem the AFL has to have". In terms of attracting the interest of rugby league supporters and for increasing television audiences perhaps, but in terms of kids playing the game, this one event could be disastrous. Likewise in the US, where the USAFL after a decade of senior competition is beginning building the game from the grassroots, implementing promising junior and college programs.
Some feel that the AFL were soft on Hall in only handing him a 7 week suspension, sending the wrong message about the acceptance of what could be argued amounts to assault on a footy field. The injury of Hall's hand later in the game has added to the mixed feelings surrounding the incident and the penalty handed down to Hall (since most of the suspension would be served while injured anyway).
The AFL has been no stranger to its controversies getting international media in recent times, with unsavory events surrounding players like Ben Cousins and Wayne Carey making headlines worldwide. While the unsanitised view of our game is bad for the league's image, there is no doubt that it is helping it to reach a much larger audience.
World Footy News