This was the right call by the AFL. You can’t have some teams training with five times as many players as others. This would give those teams an unfair advantage in conditioning their players and preparing their game plans and tactics. Plus, the AFL simply couldn’t assume this advantage would be limited to a mere week or two.
Mind you, for some, rules are meant to be broken. The Adelaide Crows are currently being investigated for breaching the AFL’s training rules. On Thursday it was reported up to 16 Crows players, in isolation at a Barossa Valley resort after returning to SA from interstate, were seen training together.
But the issue of perceived Victorian favouritism extends well beyond this one issue. According to some, the latest AFL decision was typical of the AFL’s inherent Victorian bias. Said Port Adelaide’s Tom Rockliff: “We all know the AFL makes the rules and it’s generally got a bias towards Victorian teams, and that’s just the way it goes.”
Former West Coast champion Glen Jakovich was even more blunt: “Just because we are open 10 days or two weeks earlier (than other states) why does that mean we can’t train together?
“It is nit-picking by Victoria and the AFL. Jump on a plane every second week and then see how it goes.”
The fact non-Victorian teams have to travel thousands of kilometres to play every second week is often cited as an example of how hard done by the interstate teams are. But what is the alternative?
The AFL is an 18-team competition. Ten of the 18 teams are in Victoria. So, exactly how would the non-Victorian teams like the season to be structured? If all other clubs bar one are based in states outside of yours, guess what? You’re going to have to travel a lot.
Then there’s the matter of the home ground advantage. All non-Victorian teams have a distinct home ground advantage that most Victorian teams are simply not afforded. Take the Eagles, for example, who play 11 home games a year in front of 60,000 passionate, vocal, parochial fans, 90 per cent of whom are fervently barracking for them. For every home game, except the local derby against Fremantle, they have the added advantage of playing on a ground they are far more familiar with than their travelling opponents.
This advantage is something Victorian teams don’t always have. Sure, a Victorian team will play home games against non-Victorian teams, but at least half of their home games throughout the year are neutralised by playing against other Victorian teams.
This unfair advantage really comes home to roost in the finals, where non-Victorian teams can march into the grand final off the back off consecutive home finals, while Victorian teams are often left to battle it out against other Victorian teams on neutral grounds.
In 2018, West Coast, having finished second on the ladder, rightly hosted lower-ranked teams Collingwood and then Melbourne in Perth on their way to the grand final. The fact they were playing travelling teams was a huge advantage. Back in Melbourne, top-placed Richmond played their “home” preliminary final against lower-ranked Collingwood at the MCG, which happens to be Collingwood’s home ground. The home ground advantage was neutralised and importantly, so too was the crowd support. Richmond lost.
The fact the grand final is always played at the MCG and that clubs such as Richmond are afforded the luxury of playing seven consecutive weeks at the MCG while others are forced to travel every second week is a rusted-on bugbear of non-Victorian teams. And to be honest, the second of these gripes is fair enough.
But it seems some of the complaints non-Victorian teams have are less about the issue of fairness and more about the realities of playing in an 18-team competition, with 10 teams based in one state.
Yes, it’s odd having strange advantages and disadvantages inherently and unavoidably built into the season. But unfair? I don’t think it would be fair to say that it is.
Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.