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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

Tasmania's AFL team will stretch football; third WA team could break it

As most of Australian football loses its mind over a Tasmanian AFL team that will be built on balsa wood foundations and bleed hundreds of millions of dollars better used on greater sport and social challenges, let’s hope the madness does not extend to a third AFL team in WA.

Today is the day for the Tassie Devils or Pirates or Maps or whatever they intend to call themselves.

An orgy of self-congratulations is expected at some point today when AFL CEO Gill McLachlan’s lucrative legacy is enshrined in the announcement of a 19th team in a lopsided league already stretched beyond capacity.

One billion dollars will then be sunk into an undersized stadium for underwhelming crowds while Tasmania’s plight as an economic basket-case means the new club will have its hand out for at least the next few decades.

Given that AFL experiments Gold Coast and GWS – with freebies of about $25 million each a year or about $200 million each over the past decade – and a host of loss-making Melbourne clubs already drain the national league’s finances, there is unlikely to be any extra coming west to support the WA clubs that already prop up the system.

Football is also struggling in the Apple Isle which makes it even more questionable to impose a glittering vanity project in an environment whose grassroots appear to have been nurtured on glyphosate.

“Tasmanian football has been fading away and is just a shadow of its former self,” Brisbane coach and Tasmanian native Chris Fagan said this week. And he’s a supporter!

Clearly having an odd number of teams is not ideal, maybe not even sustainable, but while the obvious solution is to reduce the over-stocked Melbourne market by at least one, and preferably multiple teams, it is far more likely that another team will be added to further deplete a league stretched thin.

While one prominent TV pundit made the bizarre suggestion that Geraldton should host the 20th team – and that is in a regional zone that has struggled to maintain its own third-tier football competitions – there are plenty of dogs barking that Team20 should move to Joondalup.

Why not throw away the keys to WA football while they are at it?

If you haven’t noticed, neither of the current two WA teams are travelling that well.

One can barely win a quarter let alone a game, and will have its fingers crossed that its reserves team can avoid a record fourth consecutive 100-point WAFL thrashing on Saturday.

Have a couple more down years and let’s see how the West Coast powerhouse that underpins the WA football economy copes with departing crowds and diminishing financial returns.

Fremantle are only slightly less critical to WA but they are also struggling.

Add a third team to the mix and none of the three would thrive. One or more might even battle to survive.

And if the AFL clubs with their multi-million-dollar bank balances and turbocharged revenue streams are in trouble, what would happen to the poor old State league clubs that operate in the shadows.

The nine WAFL clubs are relatively buoyant at the moment – none has a substantial debt and all are keeping their heads above water – but they have ageing and diminishing supporter bases that are mostly rusted on to pre-1987 loyalties, are unsure of their relevance in the 21st century, rely on WA Football Commission handouts generated on AFL activities and are always susceptible to a change of weather.

Australian football is at the crossroads at the moment yet all the signs are pointing in the one direction and they all say Tasmania.

It is a pity that no one on the bus can notice the cliff on the road just beyond the Tasmania sign.



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