With FIFA World Cup action drawing near and the Socceroos having qualified for the first time in 32 years, Australian sports fans are turning their eyes towards Germany in anticipation of the global sporting tournament. However going a few steps further some Australian journalists and soccer officials have proclaimed the demise of the indigenous game in favour of the world game. Dutch coach of the Socceroos, Guus Hiddink, recently said the world game will be number 1 in Australia ahead of "the other games you try and invent" referring of course to Australian Football, Rugby League and Rugby Union. However there is plenty of evidence that Aussie Rules has a great future, which we look at in this article.
A key part of maintaining Australian Football as the
premier sport in its homeland is providing first-class facilities for
spectators, and ensuring they are not denied the opportunity to attend
matches. With soccer now rising as the main threat to the AFL,
Australian Football administrators can no longer afford the luxury of looking at
their sold out stadiums and assuming all is well. Many other sports are
bidding for the family budget's entertainment dollar, and people turned
away will increasingly embrace alternative options. Over time the
stadia may continue to sell out, but the overall supporter-base and TV
audience could slowly be eroded. However footy has not been idle, with
most states enjoying major upgrades of facilities, and Western Australia
is about to do likewise, leaving only South Australia as the major AFL
stronghold with an insufficient ground.
The third Barassi Youth Tournament will be held in Canberra from 30 September to 7 October 2006 with teams likely to come from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, the United States of America playing teams from Darwin, the Kimberley and Australian Capital Territory.
Next month the International Youth Tournament named after AFL Legend Ron Barassi will host a Dinner to celebrate the launch of the 2006 Tournament.
Australian Football League boss Andrew Demetriou is scheduled to fly to Dubai in May in an attempt to secure a pre-season match in the United Arab Emirates for early 2007. Collingwood versus Adelaide was mooted for earlier this year (see AFL eyes several international games in 2005/06) but it fell through. With a large itinerant population it's unlikely Aussie Rules will develop at grass-roots level any time soon in the region, with the current plans more likely to revolve around sponsorship dollars, with major internationals such as the Magpies' sponsor Emirates Airlines based there.
The 2006 AFL season starts in earnest on Thursday night with a
blockbuster clash in Perth between last year's runners-up West Coast against
premiership favourite St Kilda. Both sides are tipped to give the
premiership a shake, with both featuring highly in our reader
poll (first and second) and ranked first and fourth with most
bookmakers. Also favoured by the bookies are 2005 minor premiers Adelaide
(second with the bookies) and Geelong (ranked third). Reigning premiers
Sydney have drifted out to fifth. WFN's focus is on the international
aspect of Australia's indigenous game, but here we give a quick preview
of the season ahead in the sport's premier league, as well as note the
AFL players with a distinctly international flavour.
Japan national team member Michito Sakaki has been named to line up for Essendon in their practise match against the Sydney Swans at North Sydney Oval this Friday. The Bombers have reportedly also recently signed two new major sponsors from the world of Japanese business and are considering a fan-base push into the Tokyo area, including Japanese language editions of their fanzine 'The Bomber' and an exhibtion match in 2007. Speaking to media outlet Sportal, Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy played down the chances of Sakaki being a regular fixture with the VFL Bendigo Bombers, although he was very positive of the progress this summer.
During the 2005 International Cup the AFL's National Talent Manager Kevin Sheehan was a keen observer. While followers of the international development of Aussie Rules will know that junior numbers have only begun to grow in recent years and much work needs to be done, it may still be the case that the first international draftee (other than the Irish Gaelic/Hurling player experiment) may not be far away. The next big step forward was the invitation of international players to the AIS-AFL draft camp late last year. When can we expect to see an international draftee, how well did the overseas players stack up, and will the camp invites go out again in 2006? WFN asks all these questions and more in an interview with Kevin Sheehan, in which he foreshadows changes in the very near future to fast-track international youth development.
The biggest story in AFL circles in recent weeks has been which television networks will secure the broadcast rights to the Australian Football League for the next 5 years. The total size of the bids have been big increases on the previous record deal, which should see a major increase in money flowing into the game. There have already been calls for increases to clubs, grass-roots footy, player wages and of course international footy development organisations will be putting up their hands.
In breaking news Channel 10 has announced that the Channel 7 and 10 groups have increased their offer to the AFL for the TV rights, matching the massive AU$780 million over 5 years of the Channel 9 bid.