OPINION

Alastair Clarkson AFL expansion proposal is off the mark

Alastair Clarkson wants the AFL to expand to Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Alastair Clarkson wants the AFL to expand to Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

As a four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson is one of the AFL's most-respected voices, but sometimes he is way off the mark.

Clarkson believes the league should be expanded to 20 clubs and become a truly national competition by including teams from Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

His noble proposal sounds great in theory, with an extra game every round generating crucial revenue and providing full-time bases in AFL heartlands.

But I believe there are already too many teams in the competition.

Now is not the time to expand - rather the AFL needs to consolidate.

It would be financial suicide to add two clubs to a competition struggling from the considerable losses of a pandemic-affected 2020 season.

Additional clubs would mean a further dilution of the talent pool, inevitably resulting in a reduction in playing standard.

Jeff Kennett, the outspoken president of Clarkson's club Hawthorn, recently reignited debate about a merger or relocation of AFL clubs, saying that the COVID-19 squeeze meant the AFL had no funds to underwrite a new Tasmanian franchise.

Kennett pointed out that 12 of the 18 clubs receive additional subsidies from the league merely to survive.

As a traditional AFL state which has produced some of the game's greatest players, Tasmania should have been granted a licence before those handed out to Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney.

While you can understand the frustration of Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein after putting a strong business case to the AFL for the state's inclusion, the most sensible approach at this time would be to maintain the status quo of four home games each for the Hawks and Kangaroos.

The dreaded 19th team problem

Hawthorn has done a magnificent job in playing games in Launceston and promoting football in the island state for the past 20 years.

North Melbourne is making a contribution by gradually increasing its commitment in Hobart.

Adding a Tasmanian team to create a 19th club would mean a return of the dreaded bye, and no one wants that.

Let's park the financial argument and put yourself in the shoes of an average footy fan.

The aim of every AFL club is to win a premiership and that's what every supporter wants to see at least once in his/her lifetime.

It was hard enough to win a flag with only 12 teams in the old VFL.

The Bulldogs won only one before adding to their trophy cabinet in 2016, while the Saints remain stuck on the sole premiership won by a point almost 55 years ago.

Now there are 18, and it is much tougher.

Of the newcomers, Fremantle and GWS remain without a flag having failed at the final hurdle in the past decade, while Gold Coast is yet to make the finals.

Melbourne, a powerhouse in the 1950s and early '60s, has not won a flag since Ron Barassi left the club back in 1964.

North Melbourne and Carlton played off in a grand final in 1999 and have not reached that stage since.

It is no coincidence that four of those clubs - Melbourne, North Melbourne, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs - are often discussed as teams for possible merger or relocation.

I believe that the Bulldogs and the Saints present strong cases to remain in Victoria, assisted greatly by their geographic location.

The Bulldogs service the fast-developing western suburbs of Melbourne.

Meanwhile, St Kilda is the only club based in the city's south-east - another growth corridor.

While both clubs have been enticed to sell home games to boost their coffers in recent seasons, the Dogs' 2016 flag released the pressure and the Saints attracted record membership last year.

That leaves Melbourne and North Melbourne as the most vulnerable Victorian clubs.

The Demons almost merged with Hawthorn in 1996 and the Roos have been touted as candidates for merger or relocation for more than 25 years.

And I'm still not convinced the millions poured into western Sydney is money well spent.

Javagal Srinath was match referee. Photo: Piaras Mdheach/Sportsfile via Getty

Javagal Srinath was match referee. Photo: Piaras Mdheach/Sportsfile via Getty

ICC SHOULD ACT ON POOR PITCH

The third Test between India and England at Ahmedabad's Sandar Patel Stadium was a farce and the International Cricket Council should take action about the sub-standard pitch.

The batting from India and England was exceptionally poor as the spinners dominated, and fast bowlers were not required for the second innings of both teams.

However, Tests should last longer than two days.

The onus is on match referee Javagal Srinath, a former Indian fast bowler, to write a scathing report on the pitch and hand it over to the ICC.

The big question is, will the ruling body buckle under pressure from the Board of Control for Cricket in India?

It will be interesting to see what, if any, action, the ICC takes, given the clout that the BCCI has in world cricket.

In the past, the ICC has certainly been prepared to take action on sub-standard pitches.

More than three years ago, the MCG was put on notice after receiving a poor rating for the Ashes Test pitch in 2017-18.

Since then, the MCG pitch has improved to provide a more even contest between ball and ball.

  • This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas
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