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Brisbane Lions AFLW opening match a sell-out as women’s footy participation grows


Talk to any company that’s grown 331 per cent in five years — business is clearly booming.

Even after a year that has been marred by COVID-19 cancellations and social distancing restrictions surrounding sport, the AFLW is experiencing exponential growth in Queensland.

For the first time in 2021, fans will have to purchase tickets to AFLW matches, which in the previous four seasons had been free of charge.

Brisbane Lions captain Emma Zielkie said it showed momentum and support was building for women’s football.

The Lions opening match this season on Sunday against the Richmond Tigers is already sold out.

“The amount of fans that are disappointed that they missed out in getting tickets — that’s fantastic for our game and I think it’s definitely the way forward,” Zielke said.

Brisbane Lions captain Emma Zielke leads the team onto the field for the AFLW Grand Final in 2017
Brisbane Lions captain Emma Zielke leads the team onto the field for the AFLW Grand Final game in 2017.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Growth in numbers and talent

A former player himself, Lions coach Craig Starcevich has witnessed the growth, both in numbers and talent, across the past four seasons.

“[We’ve] got a really good bunch of 20 to 25-year-old’s who are all just starting to blossom as athletes and footballers,” Starcevich said.

Emma Zielke, Craig Starcevich, David Lake, Sam Virgo and Hannah Dunn.
Lions captain Emma Zielke and coach Craig Starcevich, with Suns coach David Lake and Suns co-captains Sam Virgo and Hannah Dunn.(Supplied: AFL Photos)

In 2017 — the inaugural season of the AFLW — females made up 30 per cent of the 1.5 million people that were participating in AFL nationwide.

The percentage of females playing the code at a grassroots level has now surpassed 40 per cent, just five years later.

Head of AFL Queensland Trisha Squires said the move to charge fans to watch games live was proof of the code’s commitment to women’s football.

“It shows how important the women’s game has become to our competition and also it’s allowing us to have crowds in a COVID-safe way,” Squires said.

“We’re passionate, we’re inclusive and we’re really passionate about our footy.”

Hannah Dunn, Emma Zielke, Trisha Squires and Sam Virgo stand together on an AFL field.
Suns co-captain Hannah Dunn, Lions captain Emma Zielke, head of AFL Queensland Trisha Squires and Suns co-captain Sam Virgo.(Supplied: AFL Photos)

In the spirit of inclusivity, Queensland also boosts the 2021 AFLW Premiership Cup with its ambassador, Jaimie Howells.

The Yeronga South Brisbane Devils Football Club player is profoundly deaf, but Howells made an impression in her maiden season with the club.

So much so, her teammates all learnt their winning song in Auslan to surprise Howells after a win late last season.

Howells said she dreamt of one day playing professionally in the AFLW.

2021 AFLW Premiership Cup ambassador Jaimie Howells from the Yeronga South Brisbane Devils Football Club.
Jaimie Howells is profoundly deaf, but made an impression in her maiden season with the Yeronga South Brisbane Devils Football Club.(Supplied: AFL Photos)

Part-time profession still a struggle

That’s not to say female AFL players aren’t still up against it.

Gold Coast Suns player Sam Virgo has been a part of the code since its introduction and said while the pay and conditions are improving, COVID-19 has added another challenge to being a part-time professional female athlete.

“It’s a challenge — add it to the list of challenges we’ve already got to face and the favours we’ve got to ask our employers for currently just to leave work early for training,” Virgo said.

AFLW Premiership Cup ambassador Jaimie Howells with Suns captain Sam Virgo and young Yeronga Devils players.
Jaimie Howells (left) with Gold Coast Suns captain Sam Virgo (third) and young Yeronga Devils players.(Supplied: AFL Photos)

While the 2020 AFLW season was cut short due to COVID-19, the AFL gave players a commitment to play the entire schedule this year through the pandemic.

“All players were encouraged to speak to their employers early about the potential for going into hubs, and the AFL and the AFL PA [Players’ Association] have been really strong on supporting us in that process,” Virgo said.

The GWS Giants are already in a training hub in Adelaide, due to the COVID-19 situation in Greater Sydney.

Where to from here?

This year, all 14 teams will play nine home and away games, with the top six teams then progressing to three weeks of finals.

The AFL said a single ladder was in place this year, with the competition divided into bands — top four, middle six, and bottom four — based on last year’s ladder positions “to ensure maximum competition integrity”.

Head of the AFLW Nicole Livingston said they had only announced the first two rounds of the AFLW season to date due to the ever-changing COVID climate and border restrictions across Australia.

“We’ll continue to monitor the environment that we’re encountering around the nation before we announce any future rounds,” Livingston said.

The AFLW is forecast to add an additional round in 2022 and Starcevich imagines more clubs will be added to the roster in the next few years.

“I’m sure the four other clubs are still banging the door down to get their licence as well, so that’ll be another challenge for the league going forward,” Starcevich said.

Carlton Football Club and Collingwood kick off the 2021 season tonight in Melbourne.



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Footy in Queensland reaping the benefits of a season as the AFL’s home


The sight of hundreds of schoolchildren in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens would not normally be cause for celebration.

After all, it is a beautifully landscaped garden setting with plenty of open space ideal for children to run around in.

But for the AFL, the yelling, screaming and laughing mass was evidence of just how far Australian football has come in its northern outpost.

As part of AFL grand final week, the Botanic Gardens has hosted a Footy Festival site featuring multiple Auskick clinics.

The Festival runs for three days and registration numbers have been so strong, three more clinics have been added to meet demand on Saturday.

It only gets better for Australian football.

AFL Queensland (AFLQ) has reported participants at Auskick centres across the state are up 10-15 per cent, and that is with a significant number of the more than 900 centres unable to operate in the early part of the season because of COVID restrictions.

The growth in junior numbers has defied the bleak outlook when the coronavirus pandemic first hit in early autumn.

Children playing Aussie rules in the rain.
AFLQ kids from Alexandra Hills Bombers and Morningside Panthers chase the ball.(Highflyer Images: Deion Menzies)

“We now have 13,000 juniors, and that’s the biggest competition in the country,” AFLQ state manager of game development Mark Ensor said.

“And across the state we’re up 3 per cent on female numbers.”

He cited two contributing factors to the overall rise in playing stocks.

Firstly, the success of the Brisbane Lions in 2020 — the Lions only dropped out of the premiership race with a preliminary final loss to Geelong.

Secondly, of course, was the COVID-enforced relocation of Victorian clubs to the Sunshine State.

A back view of a modern flood light at a sports stadium on a dark night.
The Gabba will host the 2020 AFL grand final.(ABC News: Christopher Gillette)

“Playing 140-odd AFL matches in Queensland has made us incredibly happy with the year,” Ensor said.

“We’re expecting a 7-10 per cent increase in participation next year if we don’t have any COVID problems.”

Female participation on the up

Former SANFL player David Sanders has witnessed the game’s growth in Queensland from close quarters.

Sanders, who played 305 SANFL games for North Adelaide, has lived in Brisbane for 25 years and his son Van,13, plays for Wilston-Grange.

“As a parent, it’s hard to quantify the increase given it’s been such a different year with COVID,” Sanders said.

The Gorillas are a small club in an inner suburb but have about 400 junior players, around 25 per cent of whom are female.

“There’s no doubt the AFL being largely resident in Queensland has increased the interest for kids,” Sanders observed.

“One thing the AFL has done is show a lot of parents what the game is about and get them thinking it’s not bad for kids.”

A junior Aussie rules player gets a kick off as another player gives chase in the rain.
A Morningside Panthers junior Aussie rules player kicks a ball while being chased by an Alexandra Hills Bombers kid.(Highflyer Images: Deion Menzies)

Television ratings firmly indicate the attraction of the game with free-to-air numbers up 25 per cent this year.

Despite finishing outside the top eight, the Gold Coast Suns television audience grew 84 per cent and club membership jumped 16 per cent.

Matthew Argus, the football operations coordinator for the Aspley Hornets, a club on the northside of Brisbane, said his AFL 9s program was a good indicator of how the sport has grown.

AFL 9s is a non-contact hybrid version of the sport, similar to the relationship between touch football and rugby league.

“We’ve gone from 12 teams to 18 signed up to play across the summer and the openings filled up within a week of registrations being opened,” Argus said.

Women’s football is also on the move, aided by the establishment of the AFLW competition as well as the presence of so many AFL clubs in the south-east corner of the state across the past few months.

“The growth in girls playing juniors has been excellent in the last three or four years and now girls make up 25 per cent of our players,” Argus said.

A young Brisbane Lions fan waves a flag as he smiles in the stands at the Gabba next to two adults.
Brisbane has been treated to more AFL footy this year than ever.(AAP: Darren England)

He said he was confident the club’s presence in schools would grow once the coronavirus crisis ended.

“It would’ve been great if you could have the AFL here and you could go helter-skelter with schoolkids,” he said.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, who championed the establishment of the AFL and has been an important part of driving the competition’s expansion north of the Murray River, was clearly happy to talk about the progression of the code in Queensland when he launched grand final week.

“I’m not saying we’re the number one sport now in Queensland but it’s certainly nice to be in the conversation,” McLachlan commented with a smile.

When the AFL caravan closes down after the grand final and moves back to Melbourne, it will leave a legacy and it is increasingly likely it will be a large and growing one.

No wonder it is celebrating.



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An AFL boundary umpire’s tale of life in a hub, grand final nerves and a footy year like no other


My partner and I left Melbourne early in the morning of the first Monday in July.

It felt a bit like a mystery flight because it was only a short time before we left that we actually knew where we were going.

We were off for what I thought was going to be a few weeks of umpiring AFL footy in one of the interstate hubs before matches would return to Melbourne.

Now 111 days, 25 coronavirus tests, six hotels and 1,000 kilometres of running later, I’m almost ready to head home.

But not before one last mission — today’s grand final.

It’s been an extraordinary journey of ups and downs as I played my small part in trying to keep this game loved by so many Australians going.

Charter flights, COVID tests and round and round ovals

Ian Burrows inside one of the AFL hub quarantine hotels during the 2020 AFL season.
Myself and my partner were both “working from home” in the various hotels we stayed in.(Supplied)

My first task back in early July was trying to organise “working from home” from an interstate hotel at very short notice.

My daytime job is as a journalist in the ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom and, fortunately enough, my boss was very accommodating.

One of the early bizarre experiences came as we boarded the charter flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.

Instead of going through the main part of the airport, we waited with hundreds of other AFL players, umpires and staff at a private terminal before wandering straight across the tarmac and onto the plane.

In these COVID times, there’s no food on planes and people are spread out as much as possible.

We checked into our first hotel in Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast with dozens of other umpires and their families.

With us all sharing the same floor in the hotel and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, it was very quickly starting to feel like Year 8 camp with all your mates.

There was no leaving the grounds of the hotel under the strict 14-day quarantine rules.

As a boundary umpire, a high level of running fitness is key to the job.

But with limited space, it meant endless laps of the hotel oval.

My boundary colleague Michael Marantelli — who is also umpiring the grand final today — set the record with 21.1 continuous kilometres around the oval during one of his runs.

After one week in quarantine, my first match day had finally arrived.

I was preparing for a Saturday afternoon game at the Gold Coast stadium between Fremantle and St Kilda.

But just before leaving for the match, my spot was suddenly in doubt — the result of my COVID test hadn’t arrived and under no circumstances was any player or official involved in matches allowed to participate without recording a negative result in the lead-up.

Some good work by our hub manager meant he was able to get onto the lab and confirm the result was negative.

AFL umpire Ian Burrows getting a coronavirus test.
The last of about 25 coronavirus tests I had across the 2020 season.(Supplied)

COVID tests had become one of the defining features of season 2020.

We were tested before every match and, if lucky enough, sometimes even a couple of times a week.

By my count, I’d racked up about 25 tests over the last few months — some less enjoyable than others.

The occasional one drew some blood, while my favourites were with one particular guy who was quick and would say “now just a short one up the nostril”.

Often there would be a little bit of jostling in the lines to try and position yourself to get one of the “friendly” testers.

A few weeks turns to a few months

Ian Burrows and partner Sofie.
The 2020 season has been like no other, requiring us to spend much of it in hotels as part of AFL “hubs”.(Supplied)

After one week at Southport, logistical reasons meant it was time to move onto another hotel just down the road.

As with the previous hotel, we shared our accommodation with a couple of footy clubs and families and partners of players and officials.

With coronavirus cases in Melbourne continuing to soar, people gathered around TVs on Wednesday that week as AFL boss Gillon McLachlan announced there would be no more footy in Melbourne for the foreseeable future.

Suddenly, what I thought was going to be a few weeks away was looking more like a few months.

By the start of the next week, we’d arrived at our third hotel, this time in Broadbeach, where we would be pretty settled for the next few months.

Hub life meant limiting your interaction with the public, no sitting down in cafes, restaurants or the like, always social distancing and following strict rules on which umpire colleagues you could hang out with.

In fact, the AFL’s hub rule book ran 17 pages long. And for good reason.

A lot had gone into working with governments and other stakeholders to make sure the season could continue safely.

While being away from home for such a long time and following such tight rules wasn’t always easy, we were fully aware of the hard times so many other Australians were going through, particularly those in Melbourne.

But if we could help keep footy on TV and in the stadiums for the fans, we were happy.

Three matches in just over a week, and a snake encounter

Boundary umpire Ian Burrows, left, is presented with the match ball by umpire Brett Rosebury.
Before moving to Queensland I was presented with the match ball after my 300th AFL game earlier this year — one of the last games in Melbourne for the season.(Supplied)

The next three months of hub life, like 2020 in general, were full of twists and turns and unexpected moments.

Never before had I umpired three matches in just over a week but that’s what came with the “footy frenzy” periods of the season where games were played every day.

Training in this COVID world was a whole different story as well.

No more big group sessions on the track and meetings in theatrettes, but instead running by yourself and coaching over Zoom.

There was one running session I did along a gravel path in a bushy area near Surfers Paradise that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Moving along at just over 3-minute-kilometre pace, I was puffing hard and keeping a close eye on my watch.

Turns out I should have been keeping an even closer eye on the path, because I was centimetres away from stomping on a snake.

I noticed it at the very last second, as it did me. I jumped and it jumped.

Luckily we both escaped unscathed — other than a soaring heart rate that I struggled to bring back down.

A night grand final, outside Victoria

By mid-October, I’d umpired all 18 home and away rounds, with trips to Adelaide and Cairns in between, and three finals.

But the most nervous wait of all was still to come.

The last Sunday before grand final day is always an anxious day for umpires — we’re waiting to find out who has been selected for the biggest match of all.

As soon as I saw the coach’s name pop up on my phone late in the afternoon, my heart rate was again going through the roof.

And as soon as I answered I was immediately listening for hints in his voice of good or bad news to come.

Fortunately for me, it was good news this time.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in a few epic grand finals before, including the 2010 draw.

But never has the finale been played outside of Victoria. And never before at night.

This one is going to be special. And I reckon it might just be another classic.



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AFL Brownlow Medal ceremony goes virtual, but the footy stars and their partners still rock red carpet looks


The Brownlow Medal 2020 ceremony usually takes place in Melbourne, but this year’s event was spread out across Australia.

The bulk of the players in the Queensland bubble were at an event at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast.

And there were events in Perth and Adelaide, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne.

AFL partners and players are shown across eight different screens with a scoreboard at the bottom on the left and right.
AFL players and their partners at Carrarra stadium, the SCG, the Gabba, Adelaide Oval, Perth Stadium and the Melbourne studio.(Supplied: Channel 7)

Things may be all over the place due to coronavirus, but the footy stars and their partners still delivered looks — even though attendees were reportedly told they didn’t need to follow a strict black tie dress code this year.

Here’s who dressed up and who didn’t (spoiler alert: everyone did).

The Brisbane Lions’ Lachie Neale and partner Julie didn’t hold back, with the new first lady of footy donning a sheer floor-length gown and tousled waves.

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And Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston rocked a suit and a face mask, captioning his Instagram outfit post: “Brownlow Medal Victorian Style.”

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Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Christian Petracca and his partner Bella were #Brownlow ready in Brisbane.

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The Brisbane Lions’ Charlie Cameron went for a suave dark velvet ensemble, with his partner Caitlin Seeto in an equally elegant black number.

Charlie Cameron smiles as he holds his partner Caitlin by the waist. They both wear black.
Charlie Cameron, with partner Caitlin Seeto, was up for the mark of the year gong but went home empty handed.(AAP Image: Darren England)

West Coast Eagles player Luke Shuey and his partner Dani were dressed to the nines.

Shuey said he was disappointed not to be playing this weekend.

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Melbourne’s Jack Viney and his wife Charlotte posed for pictures with their baby daughter Mila Grace.

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And the Sydney Swans’ Luke Parker cut a dapper figure next to partner Kate Lawrence, who stood out in a red number.

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Equally sharp were the Melbourne Demons’ Steven May and partner Briana.

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The Western Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Libatore brought their fashion A game, both rocking up to the Gold Coast event in style.

Libatore’s suit even covered up his, “My god you’re greasy” tattoo.

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Tablet interactive: Footy Live



The minor premiers take on the reigning premiers at Adelaide Oval in front of a crowd of 27,000.



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Tablet interactive: Footy live



Follow all the action as the two traditional Victorian clubs do battle.



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Footy finals during coronavirus leave experts ‘very worried’ about spike in domestic violence


Attitudes towards women have long been an insidious undercurrent of Australia’s major football codes.

Most recently, there have been allegations of domestic abuse and drug use against Rabbitohs’ legend turned assistant coach and TV star Sam Burgess.

Burgess denies the allegations. Police and the NRL are investigating and the club vehemently denies there was a cover-up of allegations against Burgess.

Coach Wayne Bennett recently said the issue had “nothing to do with us” and “it won’t have any impact on the team whatsoever”.

Two men sitting in an empty stadium.
Police and the NRL are investigating allegations of drug use and domestic abuse against Sam Burgess (left).(AAP: Darren England)

Allegations about attitudes towards women are not just a problem in rugby league. And in some cases it involves violence.

AFL player Elijah Taylor’s career is in jeopardy with the Sydney Swans after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of his former partner.

Former rugby league player Ian Roberts works with the NRL, running player workshops about harassment and sexual abuse.

He believes education is key.

“The NRL are kind of on the front foot but it’s a conversation that needs to be taken to the next level … the conversation needs to be had in the boardrooms.”

Former rugby league star, Ian Roberts. April 2017
Former NRL star Ian Roberts says league is a “man’s world” where tribalism still exists.(ABC News: Simon Beardsell)

Roberts admits harassment and abuse is still a bit of a taboo subject when it comes to footy.

He wants people to start talking about it, particularly around finals time.

“Rugby union, AFL, league, soccer, tennis — all the big ones need to have the conversation because that pushes things along and makes it public,” he says.

Respect Victoria is trying to do just that.

The organisation is dedicated to preventing family violence and violence against women.

At the helm is Tracey Gaudry, who became the AFL’s first female chief executive back in 2017 when she was appointed by Hawthorn.

Tracey Gaudry
Tracey Gaudry says rates of domestic violence spike during major sporting events.(YouTube: UCI)

“Sports is traditionally male dominated and therefore that unhealthy hyper masculinity can come forward in terms of power or rights,” Gaudry says.

So during these finals, Respect Victoria is urging people to call out gender inequality both on and off the field.

“Statistics show that rates of domestic violence spike during major sporting events,” Gaudry says.

“During the 2018 State of Origin, police callouts for family violence rose 40 per cent.”

She’s also concerned that coronavirus could compound those figures.

“The impact of coronavirus on the home has caused an increase in family violence,” she said.

“We are very worried about the compounding effects of football finals and the ongoing COVID restrictions.”

Sports broadcaster Emma Race is passionate about reaching equality and has worked with Our Watch, which prevents violence against women and children.

“It is men that are holding the positions of power still in sport and media, so they are essential to this conversation and we need them to come along with us, we can’t do this without them,” she says

Groups like Ladies who League are also working towards change by celebrating women in sport.

“Now that women in sport are more visible across the board, not just playing but in administration, the media, refereeing, you can only be what you can see,” Ladies who League founder Mary Konstantopoulos says.

A woman stands in front of a window in the city and smiles for the camera.
Mary Konstantopoulos, founder of Ladies who League, says we can all do more to help stamp out domestic violence.(Supplied: Ladies who League)

“Now young boys and girls want to not only be like James Tedesco, but Sam Bremner and Kezie Apps. That visibility is so important and a powerful message not just for women but boys because they will grow up in a world where that’s really normal,” she says.

Her organisation works with the NRL and has been supportive of actions taken like the “no-fault stand down policy” and the “voice against violence program”.

“The NRL is doing a lot but I want to say they can do more, we can all do more,” she says.



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Tablet interactive: Footy Live



Follow all the action of the qualifying final from Adelaide Oval between minor premier’s Port and finals’ stalwart Geelong.



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Private investment could hand the NRL a lifeline — but will profit-driven investors take the passion out of footy?


During this NRL season, the most conspicuous red smear has not been the blood wiped across the face of the prop who has copped a stray elbow. It’s been the sea of red ink covering the game’s ledger.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has done a wonderful job keeping the competition running and, particularly, boosting the game’s morale in the most trying circumstances. But Pugnacious Pete is an inspiring wartime leader, not a human ATM.

The NRL expects to lose $150 million this season, most notably from the media-rights money lost when its deals with Nine and Fox Sports were renegotiated. Those losses extend into future seasons.

Meanwhile, competition leader Penrith revealed last month it would bleed $12 million in ticket sales and other projected revenue during a season that would normally fill the club’s coffers. Presumably, others have fared even worse.

Four Penrith Panthers NRL players embrace as they celebrate a try against the North Queensland Cowboys.
The Penrith Panthers have had a brilliant year, but the lack of revenue means they are in a bad financial position.(AAP: Cameron Laird)

Like society itself, it has been possible for rugby league to suspend thoughts of the future and the long-term economic havoc the pandemic will cause.

Struggling clubs have continued to sack coaches and pay out their lavish contracts, perpetuating just one of the profligate practices that had left the game more vulnerable to a sudden change of fortunes than it should have been given its media-rights riches.

But now the season is coming to an end, the bills are hitting the in-trays and axes are being sharpened.

The NRL’s announcement on Monday it would sack 25 per cent of staff to save $50 million had been anticipated.

But it is no less brutal when the human cost is revealed.

So, when a report was tabled valuing the NRL at up to $3.1 billion — as reported in The Australian on Monday — you can imagine the eyes of NRL and club officials lit up like smokers after a long-haul flight.

Beyond the valuation, the details of a potential injection of private equity capital are scant. Most notably, there is so far no thought of what control the game would forfeit for the cash that would allow it to continue business (pretty much) as usual.

Private equity investment in sport has become more common as other sources of revenue have been ravaged by COVID-19 restrictions.

A striker makes heart sign with his fingers as he celebrates a goal in Italy's top football league.
Serie A is one of the top sporting leagues in the world — but it has had to consider shoring up revenue during the pandemic.(AP/La Presse: Massimo Paolone)

The Italian Serie A and the English Cricket Board are just two organisations to have recently considered a revenue source that has traditionally been out of bounds.

In Australian sport, the potential influence of private investors has usually been considered contrary to a peak sporting body’s traditional standing as a not-for-profit organisation acting in the best interests of the sport as a whole.

So when the ARLC or the administration of any other sport ponders selling a stake in its operations, a pressing question arises: Is the sport (or even the peak league) theirs to sell?

You might argue the NRL belongs to the fans who monetise the game through their viewing habits; the clubs who continue to pull the strings for better or worse, or even the now-more-empowered players who are paid a percentage of the game’s revenue rather than mere weekly wages.

But if the actual deed to rugby league is hard to locate, there remains that vague general belief rugby league is owned by and on behalf of its various stakeholders, including the grassroots clubs and participants at the foot of the game’s trickle-down economy.

So what happens when you introduce another cashed-up but far less passionately invested owner? One with a sharp eye on profit projections and not much concern about whether the Canterbury Bulldogs can get out of the cellar or the local juniors can put a junior team on the park?

An office worker talks on his phone as he looks the stock board at the Australian Securities Exchange
What would rugby league look like if the money to keep the game afloat came from private investment?(Reuters: Daniel Munoz)

What promises would need to be made about financial accountability and profitability by a game that has, by its own admission, run a billion-dollar business like a cash bar at a suburban club to get a hand on those investor billions?

Even after the redundancies at NRL headquarters, you can assume there will be more cutbacks across NRL clubs and the game itself. Grassroots programs will suffer, as will potential growth areas such as women’s rugby league.

The ARLC might contend this will allow it to present to investors a lean competition with a large component of its media-rights contract locked in, one with the capacity to grow significantly when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

But clubs that see private-equity cash as an immediate solution to their current financial plight should be wary.

The kind of investors with a spare billion or two will be far less sentimental than the local sponsors who pay over the odds to drink beer with club executives in corporate boxes and mingle with players in the sheds or at the annual dinner.

They certainly won’t have the same historical attachment to each of the nine remaining Sydney NRL clubs struggling to make ends meet in an intensely crowded sporting market.

You might argue the ARLC is desperately in need of the kind of bookkeeping accountability a major private investor would insist upon. That a billion-dollar game can’t prosper with its nickel-and-dime economy.

But before cashing private equity cheques, the ARLC and its stakeholders would do well to remember the next time potential belt-tightening measures including mergers and relocations are on the table, it would not just be the old club warlords and rugby-league-loving NRL administrators who are deciding the fate of the century-old game.



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Gnowangerup hometown hero boots 10 goals in local footy grand final


It is a record that even the AFL’s greatest forwards have not achieved, but a player in Western Australia’s south booted 10 goals in a grand final at the weekend.

Adding to the remarkable effort was the fact all 10 goals to Gnowangerup’s Timm House were kicked in the second half.

House lead from the front to take his side from a 22-point half-time deficit to a memorable win over Boxwood Hill in the Ongerup Football Association grand final on Saturday.

Gary Ablett Senior (9 – 1989), Gordon Coventry (9 – 1928) and Dermott Brereton (8 – 1985) fell just short of the record in AFL/VFL grand finals.

House, who spent time on Geelong’s AFL list from 2016 to 2018, had just one point to his name at the main break with his side notching the one major.

By the final siren, he had booted nine and was lining up for his 10th.

Football players celebrate a goal.
Timm House celebrates one of 10 goals he kicked in Gnowangerup’s grand final win over Boxwood Hill.(Supplied: Richard Poulish)

‘There wasn’t much we could do wrong’

“I certainly remember number 10 as it was after the siren, I kicked it through and I turned around and there was a pack of players jumping on me,” House told ABC Great Southern Breakfast.

“It wasn’t just me, the whole team lifted, we were playing a totally different brand of footy in the second half, everyone clicked and we started to believe we could come back and win.

“Once we had the momentum, there wasn’t much we could do wrong.”

An older man with his arms the shoulders of a younger man in football uniform, both grinning.
Richard House with son Timm House.(Supplied: Richard Poulish)

House was named best on ground in the grand final.

The final score was Gnowangerup 15.11 (101) to Boxwood Hill 7.4 (46).



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