While a potential Tasmanian AFL team is always in the news cycle, Premier Peter Gutwein brought the issue to a head like no one has before.
He sent a shockwave through the football industry last week when he sent an ultimatum to the AFL – give Tasmania a timeline for the introduction of an AFL team or he threatened to end the state’s association with Hawthorn and North Melbourne (which sees them play four games each in Tasmania every year).
While the move does not come without danger, it is representative of a state that is tired of being beaten down and wants to end a vicious cycle.
The Greek myth of Sisyphus tells the story of a man who is condemned to push a boulder up a hill to only have it roll back down whenever he’s near the top.
A Tasmanian AFL team has been stuck in this perpetual state for several decades, the debate is revived whenever a new taskforce and campaign is established or the media needs a talking point.
By providing an ultimatum to the AFL, Gutwein is looking to break this pattern and give the state some agency over the situation.
He separates himself from past Premiers by being a genuine football person (having played in Tasmania and Western Australia) and having the courage to stand up to the AFL.
When you’re looking to push a boulder up the hill, it helps when you have someone with a spine.
Some have questioned why Tasmania would press the issue during such a fragile time for the football industry.
A Tasmanian AFL team was gaining some positive momentum pre-pandemic, but those dreams seemed squashed after the economic hit the league took due to COVID.
However, what looked like a major setback has actually given the state some bargaining power.
In a time where the league and clubs are hurting for cash, the AFL can ill afford to lose the multi-million-dollar deals Hawthorn and North Melbourne receive.
It’s also important to consider the interests of Tasmania in this situation.
Ending its relationship with Hawthorn and North would mean a $30 million hit to its winter tourism, but the state has suffered from COVID like every sector of society and needs to be scrutinous with how it spends its money.
Why should the government continue to invest in an endeavour that is not advancing or possibly hindering the state’s goal of a Tasmanian AFL team?
The deals are already criticised by many members of the public due to the amount of money poured into them, and it would be even harder to justify them in the current climate.
The money freed up by ending the agreements could go towards rejuvenating other areas of a tourism industry that has significantly suffered due to lockdown and border restrictions.
While it cannot be denied that Tasmania has benefited from Hawthorn and North Melbourne’s presence, there would be no AFL games or events in the state otherwise, they are hardly providing a humanitarian service.
Both clubs benefit generously, the Hawks’ five-year deal to play in Launceston is worth $20 million and the Kangaroos reportedly receive slightly less.
Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett’s proclamation last week that he wouldn’t rule out a relocation to Tasmania was naturally met with criticism from Tasmanians and Hawthorn members.
Apart from selling out the history of one of the country’s proudest clubs, it goes against the wishes of Tasmanians who do not want a rebranded entity.
Despite Kennett constantly positioning himself as a great protector of the state who wants to shield it from the “dangers” of its own AFL team, it is painfully obvious that his true concern lies with Hawthorn’s vested financial interest.
His relationship and care for the state is based on convenience and business, the same way many view Hawthorn’s status as a “Tasmanian team”.
On a personal note, I think it would be sad to see Hawthorn and North Melbourne leave Tasmania and potentially deprive the state of any AFL football.
Some of my favourite childhood memories involved heading up to Launceston to watch the Hawks play at UTAS Stadium (then Aurora Stadium) and I would hate to see others miss out on the opportunity to see live AFL games.
But by issuing an ultimatum, the state hopes to gain something greater.
Instead of occasional games and footy clinics each year, a Tasmanian club would help revitalise declining football participation numbers and help keep footballers in the state.
Tasmania risks losing the presence of the AFL in the state, but the move is indicative of a community fed up with the league’s ambivalence and ambiguity.
One of the nation’s oldest football states has been stuck in the wilderness for far too long, it deserves clarity on its future in the AFL, no matter the risk.
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