|Only one country wins the 2011 International Cup, but imagine a tournament where everyone walks away a winner.|
When the 2011 International Cup of Aussie Rules rolls around in August this year, the AFL estimates we will see the highest participation by countries since the tournament started in 2002, and the good news doesn’t end there – for the first time there will be a women’s section in the tournament. Early estimates have the number at around twenty-five nations for the men’s competition, while this number will probably shrink a little by the time the first ball is bounced in Blacktown, Sydney; it’s a massive boost from the sixteen nations that took part in 2008. Clearly Aussie Rules has been doing a fantastic job of making inroads internationally in the past few years.
|An AFL-backed International Cup in Canada in 2014? Why not?|
The average Aussie probably doesn’t even know the tournament exists – yet it’s played in Melbourne and there are reasonable crowds (crowds for Warrnambool matches last cup were in fact bigger than some of the Melbourne crowds) but to undermine the importance of the meaning of the International Cup is very wrong, this is the pinnacle of our beloved sport to the people beyond our shores – the World Cup of Aussie Rules. Yes Australia doesn’t take part, yes we know that there is a huge gap between Australia and the rest of the world, but isn’t the day that Australia is second best at Aussie Rules a day to rejoice? It means that some nation has taken to our game with such a passion they’ve made it their own. I’m sure there was an Englishman in a pub in Surrey scoffing at the notion that India were starting to play cricket at the start of the 18th century, and I bet the phrase that “they’ll never be as good as us” rolled of someone’s tongue at some stage – cricket is no longer a sport in India, it’s a way of life. But I think it’s safe to say Gary Ablett Jnr doesn’t have to worry just yet, probably not even Ablett Jnr-Jnr-Jnr.. you get my drift.
There is however some very reasonable questions being thrown around about the cup. Germany will not be at IC 2011, and they gave the same reason for not being at IC 2008 – it’s too expensive, the money could be better spent on local development. Australia is after all a long way from, well, pretty much everywhere. And when you’re an amateur sportsman paying your own way for a two week trip half-way around the world that adds up. There have been suggestions flying around that the cup be held every four years to help combat the cost issue. Makes financial sense, and if it gets better participation rates I’m all for it, but it’s a little bit too long between drinks for my liking, and apparently most others feel the same way. The biggest question of all is what does the International Cup mean? Is it the tournament that defines the best of the rest in the world? Does it define the best amateur country in the world? Who has the best football development program perhaps? Or is it the showcase for International Aussie Rules? Because even if it’s a small piece of the latter, we’re doing it all wrong.
Here’s an idea I was against at first, after all, nothing can compare to running out on the MCG to play a footy match. Play the International Cup outside of Australia (or alternatively every second cup outside of Oz). Now before you throw your arms up in the air and say that’s like playing the AFL Grand Final somewhere other than the MCG, (Hawthorn won in 1991 at Waverly by the way) consider this: in 2008 of the sixteen nations; 7 were from Europe/America, 7 were from Australasia, 1 from Africa and the Peace team from the Middle-East. More than half of the likely new nations at IC 2011 will be from the Europe region again. Imagine the boost twenty-five nations flying into Paris for the Aussie Rules International Cup 2014 would give not only France but Europe if the tournament was run by the AFL? Professional promotion of the event equals more media coverage, less travel costs to European and North American squads and a lot of noise in the backyard of the very nations who want it most. If England win IC 2011 it may be worth a story in the local paper, if England win in a tournament that was held in London in 2014 with twenty-five nations in town and an event backed by the AFL that has to be a massive boost. But don’t stop there; have the tournament supported by an AFL exhibition match in the host country. Make that the gift you give the international teams, not a free domestic flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Then 2017 the cup moves to the Asia region in the same format, then Canada, then PNG, then South Africa and so on.. (or back to Oz first if option ‘B’ is more to your liking). It all comes down to the AFL getting serious about international expansion. There was a clear mistake by not capitalizing on the 32,000 people Canada got to a Melbourne Demons v Geelong Cats game in Vancouver in the late eighties, if it’s done right, the International Cup could be the tool that helps re-open the flood gates once again.