Can We Have a Game?

Where is sport headed in the next ten years?

As we have seen T20 is now far more popular than any other form of cricket in terms of spectators. Rugby Sevens may well soon be headed that way too. No sooner were the Olympics over, and following the success of Rugby Sevens there were calls for Futsal to replace football at future Olympic Games. Brazil has now won its Olympic title, and on a global scale the tournament that has little relevance on a global scale would not be missed by many fans or clubs.

Now AFL have realised that they are losing out to other codes and they need a shortened version to compete with all the other sports, as well as finally giving women an option to play.

In all these abbreviated versions of sport T20 is the only one in which the numbers on each side are the same, it is just the duration of the game that is altered.

The issue that has caused headlines in The Age newspaper is that the AFL apparently want to use pitches currently used for football to play their hybrid version of the game. The same sport that many years ago told football they could ‘go and train in the gutter’ rather than use one of their venues.

There has, around the country, been a distinct lack of public space for sport to be played. Australia has a number of football codes all vying to be top dog, AFL, Football, Rugby League and Rugby Union. Three of those sports are played on rectangular pitches. Add to that an expanding population, and it is clear why there are already problems finding playing surfaces to accommodate all. If you shrink the size of the teams down, yet still have a game lasting a similar length of times, the problem is likely to double overnight.

In Perth, Britannia Oval in Leederville, has suffered greatly in recent years due to the growth in participation numbers for football and rugby union. On a Saturday morning this green space is awash with young rugby players and it is a truly great sight to see. With Floreat Athena playing in the National Premier Leagues, they have under the FFA and Football West guidelines had to have teams in all age groups from under 12 to a senior side in order to maintain their NPL status. This has resulted in more teams and more players training. Walk across the park now and it is fair to say that the pitch that Floreat’s amateur team play on, on a Sunday is a disgrace. It is only a matter of time before someone rolls their ankle on the uneven surface. If it is not one of the footballers it will be one of the Leederville Cricket Club players or their opponents, as in a month they take over use of the Oval.

Quite simply the maintenance on these playing area can no longer keep up with the increase in use. Once the football and rugby season ends, on October the first the posts come down and cricket commences. Then on April the first the posts go back up. This will be the same in many parts of the country, as well as Perth.

The article in The Age stated, “The government has given the FFA money to conduct a facilities audit to show where existing demand needs to be addressed for the thousands of youngsters who already play the game but lack the facilities to do so properly.”

First of all it is good that such an audit is being carried out. What is a concern is why the Government would pay money to one particular sport to carry out the audit. Surely an overall audit would have been far more beneficial. A report covering the use of the various open spaces could then be compared to the numbers of teams playing in local competitions, and the overall participation numbers, as well as the times that the games take place.

Such a thorough audit which would be fairly easy to compile with the help of the local councils around the country, and would be likely to reveal how desperate the situation is, how many new pitches are required and in what areas. Also whether as the FFA has stated astroturf pitches or similar will be a better option in the long term.

Giving the task to one sport, it is hard to imagine that they will not skew the results to suit their needs.

This is a very real problem, and one that will impact greatly on society, in terms of health, if people are suddenly unable to play sport because there are no pitches. The advent of another smaller sided game is going to make that a real possibility.

This move by the AFL should also have many who pushed for the new Perth Stadium squirming in their seats. This stadium, which was supposed to be multipurpose and able to accommodate rectangular sports has been configured with a very strong bias towards AFL; and cricket.

No longer are the promised retractable seats going to be installed and the word from those working on the site is that even if, as was planned, they decide to drop in seats for the rectangular codes, there is now little or no space. As the main stands have been extended almost all the way to the pitch. They were supposed to have been stopped at a certain height to allow seating to be installed in front.

A conversation with someone closely involved with the WAFL in recent weeks revealed concerns that the code has in relation to participation numbers dwindling, as so too do fan numbers at the level below the AFL; mind you the same could be said about football. That is why they are trying to negotiate a pay-out from the State Government as compensation for moving from Subiaco Oval. A stadium that the Government let the WA Football Commission manage, and take money from other codes when they used it. That should be all the compensation the WAFC should receive. Playing at Subiaco Oval cost both football and Rugby Union hundreds of thousands of dollars each match. If that money has been spent, then so be it. If anything the two rectangular codes should be the ones being compensated for the money they were forced to shell out due to the agreement set up by a previous Government.

It is all very well each code beating its breast and saying that they deserve to have more areas for people to play their sport, and there clearly is a lack of space, but it needs a proper audit to be done across the state and the country.

There are many who actually wonder what the various Ministers for Sport actually do, except use high profile matches to put themselves in the spotlight, or approve funding for various games, competitions and events. Maybe it is time that they stood up and took a strong position whereby they sat down with each code and asked what their way forward is in the next ten years. Are they focussed on small sided versions of their sport or the traditional formats. Look at audited numbers in terms of participation; too many codes do not count their playing numbers based on registered participants. Then have a plan moving forward in terms of playing areas, based on the information given.

Ground sharing at this level with the numbers concerned will simply never work. Who knows maybe we will go back to seeing children playing in the streets and backlanes.

Can We Have a Game?
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