TOMORROW night’s blockbuster between Hawthorn and Geelong should be a beauty. And it certainly can’t come quickly enough for the AFL, which needs a win far more desperately than either the Cats or Hawks.
This has been a pretty ordinary little period for league football on several levels, but more specifically the way it is being administered, with this week’s re-emergence of the tanking issue just the latest thorny problem to confront the league.
The cumulative bottom line is a football public whose faith in the powers-that-be to oversee the game has been eroded to depths as low as I can remember, at least since the mid-1990s, when the AFL was attempting to merge several clubs out of existence.
There’s the tanking controversy that refuses to die. There’s continued griping about the various contradictions and the inconsistency of the judicial arm of the game through the match review panel and tribunal.
There’s a video referral system for disputed goal-umpiring decisions, which remains clunky, and for which the technology remains inadequate despite it first having been mooted about 18 months before it was introduced. There’s increasing grumbles about the injury rate and scepticism about the AFL’s methodology in attempting to reduce it, even the veracity of the figures which claim it is, in fact, on the decline.
There’s continued and more vociferous complaints about the uneven fixture and the advantages handed those who get to play the competition weaklings twice, plus real concerns from the clubs about the length of the season, the toll taken on players and the quality of the spectacle they’re providing.
On that purely aesthetic level, there are a couple of new teams getting ritually smashed, with the prospect of a lot more floggings to come.
And underpinning all the discontent, a deeply rooted cynicism about the AFL administration’s capacity to put things right, which – going back to the clumsy handling of the affair involving AFL community engagement manager Jason Mifsud at the start of the season – subsequent events have only enshrined.
The fact the guffawing continues at the league’s vigorous denials that tanking has ever taken place shows the stock the public puts in the league’s fairly rudimentary ”investigation” last year when departing Melbourne coach Dean Bailey alluded to the practice. And the decision to investigate further after the Brock McLean revelations seems only to confirm the inadequacy of those initial interrogations.
Match review panel findings are now known as a form of football ”chooklotto”, the head apparently sacrosanct in cases like Jack Ziebell’s, not so in this week’s deliberations on Scott Thompson.
We’ve had legislation on the run via the slide tackle controversy, a virtual admission on the tanking front that the AFL hasn’t asked enough questions, and, on the lack of competitiveness of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, acting chief executive Gillon McLachlan conceding, ”I think we probably underestimated the amount of pain”.
All that doesn’t engender confidence they’re getting anything much right of late. And one thing the AFL bosses really wouldn’t want to underestimate right now is the extent to which they’re on the nose with their football public.
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