Category Archives: AFL

AFL has plenty going for it, apart from the commentators

Australian rules football is an acquired taste. Only someone who has grown up with it can get used to a game that is played in an oval field, one which appears to have few, if any, rules, and one which allows players from one side to obstruct their opponents and not incur any penalty.

But even an outsider can appreciate the degree of physical effort required to last 80 minutes of actual playing time; this means that a game takes about two hours to be completed.

What spoils the game to a large extent is the hyper-ventilating commentators who tend to exaggerate everything when there is often no need to do so; the action on the field speaks for itself.

This was illustrated well in the finale of the 2016 season as the Western Bulldogs recorded just their second cup win in the AFL championship in a frenetic game against the much more fancied Sydney Swans.

So tight was the contest that no points were scored in the first 7½ minutes of the first quarter – but then Bruce Macavaney, a commentator who is prone to verbal diarrhoea, had to stretch that out and claim that there had been no score for half of that quarter.

Australian commentators are always trying to improve on things that are best left alone.

The one decent commentator in the game, Dennis Commetti, is leaving after this final. The rest of the pack is made up mostly of ex-players who have poor vocabularies; while they have knowledge about the game, they lack the verbal verve and panache needed to excel in commentating.

A game like this final could well have done with a few better commentators to aid Commetti. The lead changed hands often: Sydney got the first points and led 8-0 but then by the end of the first 20 minutes were trailing 8-12. The Bulldogs stretched this lead out to 31-15 before Sydney came back to lead 33-31 and hold on to lead 45-43 at the main break.

In the third quarter, the Dogs were ahead again after three minutes, 49-46; Sydney went ahead 53-51 after 11 minutes, before the Bulldogs moved ahead at 57-53 at the 13½-minute mark and held on to lead 61-53 at the last break.

The Dogs never surrendered the lead thereafter, even though Sydney closed to 60-61 after 6½ minutes of the final quarter and again to 66-67 nine minutes into the term. When the score leapt to 88-67 with 2½ minutes left, even the Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge came down from his coaching box to the perimeter of the field as he knew it was all over bar the shouting.

Rarely was there any let-up as the Bulldogs, a group of mostly young, inexperienced players were not overawed by their more hardened opponents who have figured in three finals in the last five years. Sydney also boasts the highest-paid player in the AFL, forward Lance Franklin, who joined them three years ago on a $9 million nine-year deal.

Franklin was treated roughly by the Dogs and an ankle injury in the first five minutes did not help him in any way; he kicked just one goal and had limited impact on the game. The Bulldogs played well to a man; they have no big names in their ranks but some who excelled in this game are sure to become household names in seasons to come.

The Bulldogs last won a cup in 1954. They have played in only three finals, including this year’s game. And they are the first team to win after finishing seventh in the regular home-and-away season; the top eight of the 18 teams in the league play finals and the bottom four have to win four games over consecutive games to finish on top.

If only there had been a few more commentators to make the game that much more memorable – or simply stay silent.

Collingwood has a sexism issue right at the top

AT A TIME like this, when sexists rise like vermin to the surface, we need writers like the late Sam de Brito, a man who died tragically young.

I still remember how De Brito gave it to Collingwood president Eddie McGuire with both barrels in 2013 after the latter had made his infamous King Kong remarks about the Sydney Swans legend Adam Goodes.

McGuire’s ugliness surfaces periodically, and he was at his brilliant best on the birthday of the British monarch, with atrocious comments about Caroline Wilson, the chief AFL writer for Fairfax Media.

McGuire was joined by others from the blokey football crowd, with Danny Frawley, a former coach of senior AFL club Richmond, no less, and the president of the North Melbourne AFL club, James Brayshaw, chiming in. Also adding his two cents was Wayne Carey, probably the greatest AFL player ever but a seriously flawed human being.

The comments are indicative of the insecurity felt among males who feel challenged when a woman excels in a field which they have traditionally controlled.

McGuire and his buddies must be feeling half-castrated now that the AFL has done the long overdue thing and instituted a women’s league which will start from 2017.

But how many people who matter will stand up and call McGuire for what he is — a closet racist, a closet sexist, a man who has serious doubts abouts his masculinity, a man who cannot bear to live in a democracy where other people — like Wilson, for example — have opinions that differ with his?

Wilson is the best AFL writer in the country, bar none. She calls it as she sees it, is not beholden to man or beast, and McGuire, who likes the fawning kind of journalist, cannot stand her kind.

If Wilson had been a man, it is unlikely that McGuire would be so cavalier. No, he would be his loathful self, for the simple reason that he would fear a boot in the groin.

There is a sickness in Australian society and McGuire is one of the symbols of this disease. It is a disease called sexism, the good old-fashioned variety, where men join hands to keep women down for fear that they will lose control.

De Brito had it down pat after McGuire’s racist outburst: “I’ll take a guess at why your casual-Eddie-McGuire-type-racism persists in this country – because you don’t get killed for it and you certainly don’t get punished if you’re rich and white,” he wrote.

“You give a press conference. You get suspended pending an internal enquiry. You move on in a week or two and things go on as they always have.”

Someone should give McGuire a dose of his own medicine but I doubt that anyone will. Australia is far too male-dominated to knock down one of its tall poppies.

Why is so much taxpayer money wasted on sport?

How much taxpayers’ money does Australia spend on sport? It appears to be a huge amount and something the governments, both federal and state, would prefer stayed hidden.

Sport is an obsession in the country and politicians know that when the country is occupied with it, then the people won’t bother about the comings and going of those in power.

Hence, they encourage sport to the hilt. Wealthy associations receive big handouts for this and that even though they do not need the money and can manage on their own. This keeps the sport and the sportsmen on-side.
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AFL is not all it is made out to be

IF YOU live in Melbourne for any length of time, you will invariably end up at an Australian rules football match. That is if you have any degree of curiosity – I know people who have lived here for 40+ years and not bothered.

But as a journalist, one often feels that one should explore aspects of one’s living environment that wield a fairly powerful spell on people and it was that that drove me to accept an invitation from a close friend to attend a game between North Melbourne and Geelong a few days ago.

The AFL is played as a league of 22 rounds until the end of August; after that in September the teams which have finished one to eight on the ladder play finals, resulting in the champion emerging on the last Saturday in September. It is a massive occasion for the city, hosted at the grand old Melbourne Cricket Ground, a ground that can accommodate 100,000 people.
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How the AFL shields law-breakers

IN AUSTRALIA, as in many other countries, the use of recreational drugs is illegal. Yet the Australia Football League, the body that administers Australian rules football nationally, knows and hides the names of several players who have been known to indulge in the usage of drugs.

The AFL’s drugs policy is a curious beast. It will only name players when they have been caught thrice. The league tests players both in and out of season and any infractions are noted.

In 2012, there were 26 positive tests. Had any of these players been operating under the code of the World Anti Doping Agency and tested positive on match day, that would have meant a ban of two years.
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In Australia, justice can be black and white

IN February 2010, Andrew Lovett, an Australian rules football player, was charged with one count of rape over an incident in December 2009.

Lovett had been recruited by St Kilda that year after spending six years with, and playing 88 games for, the Essendon football club.

St Kilda immediately sacked Lovett. He never got back to playing in the senior league again, even though he was acquitted of the charge in July 2011.

Lovett is Aboriginal.

Last week, Stephen Milne, also of the St Kilda football club, was charged with four counts of rape. This was over an incident in 2004.

The club stood him down from playing. No sack notice for Milne.

Milne is a white man.

And there lies the difference. Despite all the protestations it might make, the Australian Football League, the body that runs the game, has one standard for indigenous players or officials and one for whites.

This was made evident in May when Eddie McGuire, the president of the Collingwood club, made a racist remark about Sydney indigenous player Adam Goodes.

McGuire got off scot-free. He was asked to go through the AFL’s remediation process and learn about indigenous practices and customs, but got no penalty.

But an indigenous official of the Adelaide club, Matt Rendell, was sacked when he was accused of making a comment about recruiting indigenous players with one white parent. He denied making the statement but got the boot anyway.

McGuire, a white man, got away with blue murder. Rendell, an indigenous person, lost his job.

And now Milne escapes with a lesser penalty than Lovett.

Australians will protest till they are blue in the fact that theirs is not a racist country. In the face of occurrences like this, it’s a little difficult to sustain that illusion.

I’m not a racist, but…

“Everyone knows the rules at Collingwood: if you racially vilify anybody, it’s zero tolerance. You’re out.” – Eddie McGuire, Collingwood president

WHEN the well-known Daily Show comedian, John Oliver, visited Australia earlier this year to make a series of clips on the issue of gun control, he used some of the material he had gathered for his regular podcast as well.

One statement cut through – Australians are comfortable about racism. And very specific about whom they are racist towards.

That sense of comfort has been underlined over the last week. Adam Goodes, an Australian rules footballer of Aboriginal descent, was called an ape by a 13-year-old fan of the Collingwood club. Collingwood was at the receiving end of a thrashing in a game played in Melbourne, and Goodes was one of those who was really handing it out on the field.

For his efforts, he had to put up with a racial insult.

The president of the club, Eddie McGuire, made a big show of apologising, and painting himself as a man against racism.

On Wednesday (May 29), McGuire, a man who wears many hats, suggested on a radio show which he hosts that Goodes should be used in an advertisement for King Kong.

King Kong if, of course, a big ape. And McGuire has made it clear that he associates Goodes with an ape. Nothing more needs to be said.

We can protest till we are blue in the face that we are not this or that as far as our attitudes go. But it is only what is inside us that comes out. And it tells the world who we really are.

McGuire is now trying his level best to extricate himself from the situation in which he has landed himself. Of course, he won’t quit. Like all white people who indulge in casual racism, he will lie low, pretend to be sorry and move on.

The problem with casual racism is that those against whom it is directed do not react strongly enough. As one writer, Sam de Brito, has pointed out, if there were serious consequences, then people would be careful about what they said.

But in Australia, one can indulge in the most vile racism and get away with it. The entrenched racism is a hallmark of society.

The Australian Football League will put McGuire through its racial and religious vilification process. It is doubtful that it will change anything in McGuire’s make-up.

By his statement, McGuire has made it clear to all and sundry that he is another one of those closet racists. Now that is clear, we know what to expect from the man in the future.

AFL: exclusive to home-born Australians

AUSTRALIAN rules football is a difficult game to understand. Difficult for anyone who has not grown up with it, difficult for anyone who has got used to other football codes because the structure and rules appear to be more loose than in other games.

One of the ways in which people grow to understand, become interested and then start following any game is dependent on the publicity that goes with it. With the AFL, the publicity is highly insular, nothing more so than the blather that passes for match commentary on radio or TV.

I grew up learning rugby union from the late Bob Harvey, one of the Sri Lankans who commentated on the sport on what was then Radio Ceylon. Most of my cricket was learnt from the commentary of John Arlott, Brian Johnston and Allan McGilvray, on the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Tony Cozier from the West Indies was another of those who contributed a great deal to my understanding of cricket.

You had a wonderful picture of the game in your head as you listened to these professionals. They took pains to ensure that the listener was always clued in as to what was going on and where it was taking place.

I’ve tried to follow AFL but the commentary is no help. Watching it on TV is no help either. No commentator seems to factor in the presence of people who are ignorant or just learning the game. The fact that AFL is played on an oval field certainly does not help when one has followed other codes on rectangular fields where it is much easier to have a spatial idea of where things are taking place.

Commentators like Arlott always made sure that the listener knew the field that was set. The listener could also orient themselves through the information that he made available. He was not obsessed with himself or what he knew. He was trying to help the listener be there in spirit.

That goal seems to be absent when AFL radio commentators take to the microphone. They never let people know orientation or personnel, where the action is taking place, or who is involved. They seem to assume that people are watching TV and listening to them speak simultaneously. One, thus, has no idea of where the game is, either in time or space.

Apart from the scoreline, which one does hear now and then, there is little that is intelligible in the radio commentary. People shriek and yell when they feel like it, they get excited every time a goal is kicked. That does not help the listener understand the game any better, it makes things worse.

The TV coverage is poor in quality. It seems to be geared more towards gimmicks, rather than the actual game, more towards the players’ emotions rather than the actual run of play. Of course, it is easier to dwell on gimmicks and players’ expression than to capture action when it happens.

So does the league not want newcomers to Australia to understand and come to follow the game? One wonders. Perhaps a book on basics could be printed and given away free or as a PDF. Watching the game on TV you come away with the idea that there are no rules, that it is a game for softies, or sometimes really violent types. The lack of uniformity in rulings is quite remarkable.

There are some things in AFL that make it different from other ball games. For example, the actual act of scoring, by kicking a ball between two posts, is something a player can do uninterrupted if he has caught the ball cleanly. Goals are sometimes kicked on the run, but once a catch is made – it is called a mark – the player can set himself up and then kick without being tackled. It makes for huge scores. In this aspect the game seems to be one for wusses.

Then there is the matter of obstruction. In any sport, if one is obstructed by an opposition player, that would be an offence. Not in AFL. You can “shepherd” one of your own players as much as you like. It sounds crazy and probably is.

It used to be that you could push a player in the back and get away with it. That has changed; now even if one tickles a player between the shoulders, the umpire blows his whistle.

The ball is passed either by means of kicks or else by hand-passes which have to be executed in a particular manner. Else, the latter action is penalised and termed “throwing”. Each time one receives the ball via a kick, one cannot be tackled, and has time to dispose of it without being interrupted. This is supposed to apply only if the ball has travelled 15 metres but the umpires seem to lack any idea of distance. When one receives the ball via a hand-pass, the player has to continue on without halting play as is possible when one receives the ball via a kick.

There is also an unhealthy obsession with statistics to the extent that a player who does X+1 of something is considered to have had more of an impact on the game than a player who does X of the same thing. Quantity is thus the focus, not quality.

Australian rules is tiring; the game itself runs for 80 minutes of actual playing time. The time when the ball is out of play is not counted. With six-minute breaks after the first and third quarters and a 20-minute break at half-time, the entire process can take close to 2½ hours. And given what I have just written, it will sadly be understood and followed only by those who watch it from an early age.

And this really has nothing to do with race. Really.

MAJAK Daw is a Sudanese migrant to Australia. People know about him because he is the first African to play Australian rules football. A member of the junior string of the North Melbourne football club – Werribee – Majak’s recruitment resulted in a good deal of positive publicity for the senior club that is not especially well-known for performing well on the field.

North Melbourne last won the AFL senior championship in 1999 when it had in its ranks a man considered the best Australian rules player ever – Wayne Carey. Since then the team has turned in indifferent performances year in and year out.

The degree of publicity Majak received grew even more when he was racially abused during a game in 2011. Newspaper and TV coverage was sympathetic to the young man who has seen his share of war in Sudan before he came to Australia.

Now things seem to have gone sour; a few days back, Majak, who in 2012, had been moved up to the senior ranks – which meant that he would probably play for the senior team this year – was suddenly suspended indefinitely by the club. He was sent back to Werribee.

Initially, no reason was given apart from the spinmeister’s line that he had acted in a way not in keeping with the culture of the club. Later, once rumours about his activities began to leak on social media, the club stepped up and said that he had been suspended because he had lied to them about going to a nightclub while he was supposed to be going through the process of rehabilitation for an injury.

The club had to speak up because other facts about Majak had emerged – he owed someone in the club money (it was said to be less than $1000) and he was in a relationship with the white girlfriend of a former member of the same club. And people were concluding that these things were responsible for him being suspended.

If lying at an AFL club is a hanging offence, then this is the first I’ve heard of it in 15 years. Many high-profile AFL players get into all sorts of scrapes during the season and off-season. There are plenty of incidents involving alcohol and women. There are barroom fights, there are scuffles and there are interludes of racism. All of this is par for the course in the AFL. And plenty of fibs are told about each and every incident.

Yet, when an African footballer tells his club coach that he did not go out at night – when in fact he did – at a time when he was supposed to be undergoing rehabilitation, that suddenly becomes so serious that he gets suspended indefinitely. One must note here that apart from the prestige involved in playing for the senior club, no matter how poorly it performs, there is a good deal of difference in the pay one receives, compared to what one is paid by the junior outfit, Werribee.

It seems much more likely that his teammates were quite sour about the amount of publicity that Majak was getting and complained to the coach. His teammates would have probably spread the necessary canards and the coach would have realised that the majority of players – all white, mind you – were not especially fond of this black man who has quite a good public following. And that would have translated to problems on the field.

Publicity is the name of the game in any discipline in Australia and Majak was getting more than his fair share – and he had not even played a single senior game yet. Imagine what would have happened if, as expected, he turned out for the senior team and did well. His name would have become synonymous with North Melbourne; the man would have become bigger than the team.

His prospective teammates certainly wouldn’t have liked that.

AFL club officials are economical with the truth all the time. But when a young man who is from a completely different society tells a white lie, he is crucified. And it has nothing to do with race. Nothing at all.

Sexism reigns in AFL commentary box

FOR all the talk about the number of women involved in Australain rules football, better known as AFL, there are fresh indications that, like many other things in the country, it is run by, and meant for, middle-aged and old white Australian males.

The latest indication of this comes in the dumping of commentator Kelli Underwood by Channel 10, one of the two free-to-air channels which won the right to broadcast the game in the last bidding contest for TV rights.

Underwood was given a two-year trial and has now been relegated to doing the job of boundary rider; an all-male team will call the games for this season and, conceivably, for the foreseeable future.

The decision smacks of sexism. It was made after a local tabloid, the Herald Sun, published the results of an online survey that ranked AFL commentators according to the annoyance factor. That anyone could take an online poll seriously is surprising; further the Sun’s readers cannot be exactly said to be at the high end of the IQ spectrum.

My rating of Underwood comes from nearly 43 years of listening to sport on radio and watching various kinds of sport on TV. Among the many commentators I have listened to are Bob Harvey (Sri Lankan – rugby union), Dicky Rutnagur (Indian – cricket), Alan McGilvray, Jim Maxwell, Glen Mitchell (Australian – cricket), John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Don Mosey, Christopher Martin-Jenkins (all British – cricket), Tony Cozier, Reds Perera, Fazeer Mohammed (West Indies – cricket), Dennis Commetti, Gerard Whatley, Drew Morphett, Mark McClure, Stan Alves, Rex Hunt, Anthony Hudson, Sam Newman (Australia – AFL), and many more whose names do not come to mind immediately.

Underwood is no better and no worse than any male commentator employed by a TV channel or a radio station; in fact, several of the men who commentate on the game are much worse than her. She has the right approach to communicating the state of the game, and never allows herself to go overboard. Instead, in the manner of top commentators like Brian Glanville, she builds up the excitement, never indulging in the kind of yelling and verbal diarrhoea that many of the men do.

Hudson, one of the Channel 10 commentators, should not be allowed anywhere near a commentary box. His delivery is poor, he gets excited all the time and screams, and for him every goal is “unbelievable.” But he has the characteristics which Underwood lacks – he is white, middle-aged and male.

This isn’t the first time that a woman has ventured near the commentary box of a predominantly male sport: in 1983, actress Kate Fitzpatrick joined the cricket commentary team of Channel 9. She did not last long, only until the end of that season. There are other women like Rebecca Wilson (who lasted one episode of the National Rugby League’s footy show) and Caroline Wilson, who appears on Channel 9’s Footy Classified and has done so for some time.

The commentators of today indulge in a lot of hyperbole, in the belief that they have to jazz up the game that they are covering. They use tired, worn phrases all the time and try to outdo each other in the use of superlatives. For the most part these days, I turn off the sound if I watch an AFL game.

Australians are willing to endure Bruce MacAvaney (who when describing young Hawthorn footballer Cyril Rioli gushed “what a delicious young player he is), Hudson (who shoots off at the mouth all the time), and Hunt (who is prone to the occasional racist gibe and whose commentary is mostly understood by an audience of one – himself).

At a time when even a country like Pakistan has put a competent woman in the commentary box – sadly, after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, she has not been able to commentate because international cricket matches are not being staged in the country – it seems absurd that a country like Australia, which claims to be oh-so-progressive, cannot do as much.

But then, on reflection, why am I surprised? Graphic evidence of the sexism in the country was provided when elections were held last year. One shouldn’t be surprised that a smaller subset of the population expresses the same sentiment.