Tasmania’s long and arduous trek towards AFL salvation has endured many mirages and false dawns, but after years of wandering in the hopeless desert, has the neglected football state finally found its knight in shining armour?
This week Tasmania encountered it’s most significant – and state government sponsored – step towards achieving its holy grail of an AFL team, establishing a new Tasmanian Football Board to formalise its AFL’s goals. The new board which was announced by the Tasmanian State Government on Wednesday, has a sole purpose of delivering the state an AFL and AFLW team or at the very least a clear roadmap towards this promise land.
The most practical benefit of the board, chaired by former South Melbourne footballer and proud Tasmanian Jim Wilkinson, is to provide the state with a unanimous voice. This is opposed to Tasmania previously having a multitude of different groups speaking in its behalf, often with conflicting interests, such as AFL Tasmania, the TSL club directors and the state government. The Tasmanian Football Board will now act as Tasmania’s united front when the group officially forms in July this year, and will investigate and resolve key issues pertaining to the state’s AFL bid such as sponsors, costs and the side’s name.
Another key issue the board will consider is where the side will be based, as Tasmania’s AFL bid has previously been hijacked by debates over the state’s north-south divide. Wilkinson has stated that his preference would be for the proposed team to have their home games set up so “five game [are] played in the North and five games [are] played in the South.” However, it must be noted that the team would have eleven home games in Tasmania, not ten, and that this is something the chairman of such an important board should probably be across.
There is a business strategy known as “underpromise and overdeliver” but board chair Jim Wilkinson appears to be choosing a different tack. Wilkinson has courageously – or foolishly – vowed to deliver Tasmania an AFL team after decades in the football wilderness, declaring a Tassie team as “not a matter of if, [but] a matter of when.” This is a monumental ask, but if Wilkinson can deliver on his promise, he could well expect a golden statue outside both Blundstone Arena and York Park. However, if he fails then he will only reinforce the cynicism entrenched in the minds of many Tasmanians towards the nation’s most successful code, that has contributed to an alarming drop off in participation rates, evidenced by the fact that only four draftees have come from the Tasmanian State League in the past three years.
The enormity of the task is complicated due to there being no obvious path that leads Tasmania to the AFL, certainly in the near future. Tasmania has been awarded a provisional license for a return to the VFL in 2021, but this contains no promise of an elevation into the AFL. The AFL has already committed to remain as an eighteen-team competition until at least 2024, making the possibility, floated by many, that Tasmania may enter the league at the beginning of the new broadcast agreement in 2023 as unrealistic.
The new football board also has already stated that it aims to introduce a team by this point, a goal that will have to be readjusted. In fact, board chair Wilkinson believes that Tasmania has the potential to join the league within the next three years. A timeline that will be extended very quickly on the newly established board’s drawing board, when AFL House enter the fray.
The most important question that this board must deifier, in regards to a Tasmanian AFL team, is not “when” but – “how?” The Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman previously saw an opening for his state, at a time when the Suns looked particularly shaky, when he offered to take their AFL license if they collapsed on the Gold Coast. But the Suns have the full backing of the AFL and avoided fears of bankruptcy by successfully securing a new stadium deal for Carrara. Thus, closing off an opportunity for Tasmania to pounce on the vulnerable franchise.
Therefore, is the only real plan for Tasmania to sit on their hands and wait for the AFL to expand to a twenty-team competition? “Wait” is hardly an easy message to sell to the already impatient Tassie faithful after their taxes have been used to establish this new board. Moreover, the wait may well be some time since Northern Territory, who are also seeking an AFL spot, will need to get Marrara Stadium in order, if they are to have any hope of rounding the competition up to twenty teams. This is only relevant to Tasmania because it is pretty difficult to see the AFL expanding to an awkward nineteen teams just to accommodate Tassie; a state in which they have not exactly bent over backwards for in the past.
So where exactly has Wilkinson gained this confidence, reported in The Mercury, that he will be able to “grow the game and deliver the state its own AFL team, ideally within the next three to five years”? It certainly seems like a lot of confidence from a man who does not appear to be across the finer details of what Tasmania’s AFL bid entails. While he may just be simply trying to sell hope to the Apple Isle, at this point the Tasmanian public do not need hope.
In fact, they do not even want it.
What they need is answers, so if you do not have them, stop wasting their time and money, because it’s just going to end in tears.
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