Contributed by: Brett Northey
The AFL has once again done a wonderful job coordinating around 1000 players and officials from all over the world at the International Cup. With the upset win of South Africa over Papua New Guinea we also have 4 genuine contenders for the overall championship in the Men's, and in the Women's it looks like the Canadians may have bridged the gap to Ireland, so the race is open there.
However... there's a ticking timebomb that has already caused some damage to the image of the Cup and the AFL and could get worse.
The fixture has major issues. There's no doubt it's a difficult task trying to meet all the needs of the tournament - flexibility in the number of teams that will turn up, trying to ensure everyone gets a mix of games against the best and the lowest ranked, making sure the top teams have a fair chance to win it, and certainty for the Community Round so that the hosts could prepare for known countries in advance.
But in any sporting competition the key requirement must be that it is as fair as possible. A primary tool in achieving that is having reasonable seedings (the previous Cup positions making that straight forward) and ensuring a draw that, if matches go according to the seedings, results in the top teams facing off in the semi-finals and grand final. It also needs to avoid, if possible, teams playing each other more than once, unless they work their way back to a grand final playoff. This is especially so when players are spending small fortunes to travel around the world wanting to play against countries they've never encountered before or rarely.
Unfortunately the IC2014 draw, with three Men's pools, has actively worked against the seedings. It has pitted the 2nd ranked team in each pool against both 1st and 3rd, whereas 3rd has avoid playing top. So if matches go according to seedings, as any good draw would anticipate, the 3rd ranked sides will finish above the 2nd ranked side. Worse, because 4th spot for the semi-finals went to the 4th best positioned team overall, we very nearly had Canada make the semis. All due respect to Canada, they are looking much improved, but they were seeded 3rd in their pool and lost to the team seeded 2nd (USA), yet almost made the final four. Contrast with the USA who really never had much chance. Only PNG's upset loss to South Africa avoided this scenario. Canada's strangely smooth passage then sees them play the 12th ranked team overall, making their position at the top of Division 1 almost impregnable. Basically when they were seeded 3rd in their pool, and 9th overall, they were all but guaranteed to finish in the playoff for 5th and 6th, or better had PNG not lost unexpectedly. I'm a huge fan of Canadian footy and its potential, but surely even their biggest fan would admit they've had an unfairly soft draw.
That situation must be avoided in 2017. We also saw teams drawn to play multipe matches in which it was widely known the result would be 200+ point massacres. Hardly good for morale or presenting a good image for international footy. There are some reasons behind doing the draw that way, so we're less critical of that, but it can be fixed. We'll put forward our own suggestions at a later date.
Perhaps worse still, and the primary reason for this article, is that the draw is seeing the same teams pitted against each other multiple times. There's even a chance that China and Finland will play each other three times out of five matches for the tournament! If that was going to happen the AFL must step in, admit they made a mistake, and find a solution acceptable to all parties.
We've spoken informally with several nations and its fair to say they are not happy.
So far locked in is Great Britain playing Nauru in 2 of their first 4 games, and China against Finland 2 games in a row, with 3 in a row on the cards.
The top 4 is set, and the top few teams in Division 1 will be deadly serious about winning their group, but surely a quick ring around of the lower sides in Division 1 and certainly in Division 2 would find managers and league presidents happy to discuss re-arranging the last 1 or 2 rounds to see teams set against each other that are of similar ability or haven't played each other yet. At this stage of the tournament and with the issues emerging we believe that would be a call those teams would appreciate.
A suggestion for Division 2:
Sweden vs Indonesia, Finland vs India, China vs Japan then:
Sweden vs China, Finland vs Japan, Indonesia vs India
It would see a good mix of matches between teams that don't normally play each other, and ensure that all but one would depart this tournament with a win. And surely that would be good for football.
World Footy News