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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup

International Cup 2011

 AFL International Development Manager Tony Woods was in Adelaide this week for the launch of a major AFL Fiji fundraiser by Port Adelaide's Fijian connection, David Rodan and Alipate Carlisle; more on that later.  worldfootynews.com took the opportunity to sit down with Woods to discuss a range of issues about the sport's international growth, and some of Tony's thoughts will be featured across several articles.

High on the agenda was August's International Cup, with two questions that come up each Cup top of our list - what format will be used and what support will the AFL be offering competing countries.

In the past there have been unsuccessful moves to have multiple divisions to protect the lower ranked sides from 200 point beltings and although some nations have been keen to test themselves against all-comers reality hits pretty hard when the scoreboard gets ugly match after match along with a mounting injury toll.  It appears that a split is a must in 2011, but how to divide the nations could be a contentious issue.

Tony Woods explained that the AFL is considering a fresh approach, using a two-day lightning carnvial with shortened matches so that all the teams can begin in the same division, but quickly be sorted into an upper and lower group for the more conventional rounds that follow.

"This year we're looking at a round robin format, lightning premiership format in the first round as a way... to effectively rank the countries as they proceed into the tournament... Ultimately this comes back to the final number of teams but we're looking at a couple of divisions and conducting a lightning premiership as a way of feeding into division one and division two... a number of shortened games played over a couple of days.  How that looks in the end we're still working on and trying to make it fair for all, but recognise that some teams have been coming... this will be their fourth tournament and some teams will be coming for the first time.  It's really designed at ranking the teams as best we can... to give every team a chance to put their best foot forward but ultimately the better teams to move further in the tournament.  The reality is it's hard... it's three years since they've all played with each other, a lot changes, circumstances change, players move on.  Essentially it's been based on feedback coming from the teams themselves anyway."

Do you like the idea of a quick multi-match carnival to seed the nations at IC2011?  Comments welcome and vote in our poll:

This poll is closed for voting.
IC2011 format proposal

1/1: Do you like the idea of a ligntning carnival to seed teams for IC11?

Yes 60.98%
No 34.96%
Unsure 4.07%

On the divisive issue of funding, it has been a well-discussed point that the AFL's international development arm at this point in time is not equipped to pay for flights for as many as 30 teams and support staff.  But it is believed that some support has been offered to some nations in the past.  Woods put the AFL's position on the record.

"I often get asked the question as to which countries are you supporting, we're happy to look at ways in which we can support every country.  We've invested time and energy and resources into striking an accommodation deal with Accor to the betterment of the countries.  We're in the final stages of trying to strike an airline deal."  Domestic or international?  "Internationally.  We're looking at ways to cover either in entirety or subsidise travel from Sydney to Melbourne.  We look at country circumstances on a case by case basis.  The reality is that some developing countries in some cases need a little bit of a helping hand, but there's no blatant up front handouts.  My preference, as has been the preference in previous tournaments is that countries have to work to do what they need to do to get to Australia and in every case that happens."

"Seven months out from the tournament which countries are we looking at helping, well none yet.  And I don't mean we aren't going to what I'm saying is we're encouraging everyone to work through the same process. I'm sure that the countries who end up competing, and I'd be really surprised if this wasn't the case, if there's particularly a third world country that's required a little bit of help at the 11th hour just to get onto the field, if that's one more team they can play against then surely that's good for the tournament."

Note that at the time of the interview we were unaware of the imminent withdrawal of several teams such as Italy and Timor-Leste from the IC11 otherwise that would also have been a topic of discussion.  Both nations are very new to Australian football and felt that it was too soon for them in terms of costs and player availaibility etc.

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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Rod Shaw on Friday, February 18 2011 @ 03:19 pm ACDT

Bite the bullet and go to divisions. The IC quarters are short enough with out trying to emulate a 7's carnival playing 18 a side. Go play quality footy and let sides earn their stripes through divisions or whatever means (perhaps regional championships like soccer where stronger regions get more automatic entries in to the World Cup or in this case the A Division)


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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Brett Northey on Friday, February 18 2011 @ 06:26 pm ACDT

Here's something I'm always curious about.  We've had around 100 people read this story already in the first few hours and yet only 14 poll votes.  Even if a poll is right there in the story, do 80 to 90% of people choose not to vote?  Perhaps I should run a poll to ask...

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN
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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Brett Northey on Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 12:05 pm ACDT

We don't have a lot of details yet, but my first impressions were that the lightning carnival style would be a good idea.

It has been well discussed that if every team goes in one division then the bottom sides get smashed and several of them in the past have said that it did damage their International Cup experience - a lot of money and a lot of effort and a long way to come to not really even be competitive.

On the other hand if there are separate divisions then the lower sides never get a chance to test themselves against the best and see what the higher standard is like.

This is why I like the idea of a lightning tournament to start with, provided it is implemented well.  I'm guessing it would see teams seeded and then play a series of short matches against teams from right across the full seeding range.

Here's an example, purely me brainstorming, I don't know if the AFL have this sort of thing in mind.

Say there are 24 nations and you could use our World Rankings as a starting point.

Have a top team like New Zealand (3rd) play 5 games against teams considered outside of their local ranking, e.g. 5 games of 2x12 minutes against USA (6), Great Britain (10), Japan (14), Peace Team (provisional rank only) and Switzerland (unranked but could use Europe 9s rankings we've produced).

I'd expect NZ to win all 5 games comfortably, even with the short matches.  In game time it would be like about 1 and half games in one day.  But if NZ lost say to the US because the US was better then quite rightly the US would get ranked higher instead.  But it is shorter games so not quite fair on NZ given their strong ranking from past success.  However, they would not fall very low on the ladder and if division one was top 8 or 10 they would still be in division one, so have plenty of chance during the normal rounds of the next 2 weeks to win their pool and win the Cup.

A top ranked side would get to play a range of matches but not be tested against the very very best.  Only if they lost 2 games would they risk falling out of div 1, and quite rightly so.

Similarly all teams would play 5 games against sides outside of the ranking zone.

A lower ranked side would get the chance to play some shortened games against middle and top ranked sides, so they would probably get some bad losses, but the clock will limit the damage.  They then get to play amongst their peers for the rest of the tournament.  If they were a real surprise team and much better than anyone thought, they do have the chance in those first 2 days to upset some middle sides and maybe squeeze into div 1.

The middle rankers would be where the true battle is.  If there were 10 div 1 spots then the teams anywhere from about 5th to 15th would be vying for the lower ends of div 1.  Percentage would probably decide 1 or 2 spots.

Again, this is just my thoughts based on the basic info contained the story above.  The AFL may have something quite different in mind, but if not, that's my suggestion.

The advantages are that initially ALL teams can genuinely have a chance of winning the Cup, they are not excluded.  And ALL teams get to play against a range of opposition from across the world and across the rankings.  But ultimately the best teams will fight it out in div 1 and the lower teams in div 2, still with something to play for.

Perhaps with so much cross over and so many teams (hopefully) then the AFL could look seriously at adopting a ranking scheme such as ours and seed teams straight into divisions in 2014.  Or use tournament like the Oceania Cup and European Championships to sort teams.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN
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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Harley Vague on Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 12:42 pm ACDT

I think the low number of voters would be put down to people leaving it to the actual clubs concerned to formulate a process .If I had a strong opinion as to why one option was best , then I would vote .

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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Brett Northey on Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 12:51 pm ACDT

Fair enough.  Nice to know why some people hold off.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN
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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: sverik25 on Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 01:55 pm ACDT

Perosnally, I think the idea of having a lightning type carnival to decide the divisions is a great idea. Like Brett said, it gives all nations a chance to play against a variety of opponents before dividing them up into divisions.

Only problem I have is that some teams may "tank" matches during the lightning phase so that they end up in lower divisions in order to have a better chance of winning their division.

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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Brett Northey on Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 04:14 pm ACDT

That's possible, but I'd be very surprised if any country would not give it their best shot to make division one.  I can't imagine countries like Canada or the US being happy to be Div 2 champions - I think they would be intent on trying to bust into the top 4.

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN
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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Michael Christiansen on Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 08:03 pm ACDT

I tend to think that as the game progresses further, if it can be done, then allow something like this lightning premiership first phase could be good - - given it's probably not really realistic to expect a more formal FIFA WC style qualification process or tennis style seedings.

The chance for the 'minnows' to taste action against some of the better nations I guess it would be unfair to deny that - - however, last time around we saw the Finnish lads battling hard as they lost players from a short list anyway - getting hammered first up by a much better Canada.  The longer such a game goes on, the sorer and more likely to get injured the players of a minnow side will be.  So, limit the damage early - footy being footy, the scoreboard rarely lies - so, we know the better sides will win.   And so, come the longer format games - the sides should be more evenly matched.  These guys are amateur after all - and some are MORE amateur than others!!!!  (i.e. PNG going forward is going to be far, far more 'rounded' footballers than an IC debutant Italy/Germany or TImor).

Although, looking at the PNG v Nauru game in 2008, up to half time a ripper of a game but PNG pulled away with better fitness in the 2nd half.  So, you might get the odd upset in a shorter game. 

.....Daniel Harris put the Suns in front early days.  GWS got smashed by 79.

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AFL ponders lightning carnival to kick off Cup
Authored by: Cam Homes on Sunday, February 20 2011 @ 10:48 pm ACDT

I have to agree with Rod. Bite the bullet and go for Divisions. Use the WFN World Rankings as a guide to form the Divisions. A Lightning Carnival is not necessary and almost all people agree that short games are not a real guide. It also has all the teams work load increased and the only purpose is to give minnows a chance to play against far superior teams.  (See below idea to acheive same)

At this stage it seems there are still 24 teams in the mix. 3 divisions of 8 teams is ideal. If each division is played as was played in the 2010 European Championships(ie. 2 pools of 4 teams in each division) it means that each team will only play 4 matches to decide the winner in each Div.(down from 5 in past IC's)

WFN World Ranking 2nd to 9th(current ranking) in Div 1.  Is there anyone who really believes that any of these teams don't deserve to be there?

GB, Sweden and Canada could argue that they should be in that division, BUT, who are they going to replace? GB has defeated Samoa in an IC but so have Japan. Take Samoa out and put in GB !!! BUT Sweden have defeated GB as recently as the EC10. Canada has not ever beaten GB or Samoa.

Let's accept 10th to 14th in the rankings, ie. GB, Sweden, Canada and Japan as the best outside Div 1. and therefore must be in Div.2 Any one of these could conceivably win Div 2.  (Germany not playing)

Who else could be in this division? Finland is 15th but they are probably in reality the full 4.31 rating points below Japan that the ranks suggest. (if we take the article in WFN a while back, about Finland's chances of being at IC11, they would probably rather be in Div 3 where they have a good chance of winning a few games than spending up big to get here and going home winless again).

Many pundits have suggested that Tonga and Fiji would give a couple the top 4 in the 2nd div a run for their money. So let's include them. That leaves 2 spots.

Let's rule out France, Switzerland, Indonesia, and Vanuatu as they have never played International matches before. That leaves Croatia(5th at EC10), Iceland(6th at EC10), Israel/Palestine(Peace Team)(13th at IC08), China(15th at IC08) and India(16th at IC08). Croatia and Iceland have played Internationals as recently as EC10 ( a couple of pre-tournament matches could be played between them and Peace Team and China, IF all of them WANT to be in Div 2.) 

So three divisions looking like:

DIV 1. PNG, NZ, Ireland, Nauru, USA, SA, Denmark and Samoa.

DIV 2. GB, Sweden, Canada, Japan, Tonga*, Fiji, Croatia* and Iceland*.

Div 3. Finland, Israel/Palestine*, China*, Switzerland, France, India*, Indonesia and Vanuatu.

*provisional ranking only.

France knocking off Germany in their planned match in July could suggest that they could seriously knock on the Div 2. door. 

Players and teams have expressed the desire to play at least one game against an obviously superior team for the learning experience gained in such a contest, but a pre-tournament lightning carnival only affords that advantage to the lower rated teams. An extra match or matches that for the higher rated teams, is merely a match practice.

A pre-tournament warm-up match(for those nations that desire one) against an Australian suburban or near-city country club(matched in standard to each national team) with players seasoned and experienced in our game giving ALL the visiting teams that chance to go up against higher quality players. This would still have the IC nations only playing 5 matches whilst in Australia.

For the hosting club the match would be more than just a practice match but an "International" Friendly.  (See earlier comments about advantages to hosting clubs in "Ireland recruiting Exiles" article).

The Balmain Dockers, East Coast Eagles and/or Tuggeranong for instance could be matched with visiting nations to enable them to gain that extra experience without copping a flogging trying to match Croatia with NZ or Nauru with France. Even NZ and PNG could be matched against an Aussie team to give them more than a run for their money. And India or Iceland could be matched with teams that would also give them the pre-tournament work out the players desire.(I believe Balmain have played these type of games in the past) 

Six months should be time enough to get such a series of matches organised.


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