Australian Sport Lived the Dream, Now Facing Reality.

October 22, 2013 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

It has not been a good year for Australian sport, the cricketers, the wallabies, the socceroos have all struggled to win, and with these struggles coming on the back of a disappointing Olympic Games in London there has been plenty of navel gazing

The news last week that Australian Rugby Union is going broke stunned many, but not those in the know. Added to this is the worrying state of the Super rugby franchises. Rugby Union is having to take a good hard look at itself and try and unravel some of the player contracts that they negotiated to keep players in Australia, and it has to act fast.

What is incredible is how football and rugby are facing many of the same problems at the moment, although football is loathe to admit it has any, as it is desperate to appear as if it is finally fulfilling its potential. Crowds attending A-league games are bound to agree that the code is heading in the right direction.

The ARU has stated that it is struggling to fund the game at development level, football too is struggling to meet those needs, with parents being asked to dip into their pockets for more and more money. This is one area the AFL does a great job, making sure funds from the highest level filter down to the youth level; but then again they do not have to fund international teams playing overseas in worldwide tournaments at a variety of ages!

Like the Socceroos, the Wallabies are not currently playing well and there have been complaints from former players that there is no longer a pride in wearing the jersey, or shirt. We doubt that this is true. Sure some players may not hurt as much as others following a defeat, but any player who wears the national colours, has to be proud to wear them, don’t they?

One thing that is clear, is as in football, rugby can no longer rely solely on home-based talent. They have to widen the selection circle and invite those players who have opted to head to Europe or Japan to earn bigger salaries, back into the international fold. George Smith proved against the British and Irish Lions that he was still up to the task, and the Wallabies benefitted.

Unlike their football counterparts Australian rugby union faces a major dilemma. It’s teams play in the toughest club rugby competition, Super Rugby, and then the best players from that competition play in the Rugby Championship against the perennially best two sides in the world, New Zealand and South Africa. So when they are going through a transitional period, – like now – results look a great deal worse, and as a result their world ranking is affected. Losses also result in fans starting to stay at home and revenues begin to dip.

The Socceroos and A-League players are lucky they do not play in similar competitions each year! However sadly the current success of the A-league in terms of excitement is papering over the international capability and player development cracks.

Currently Wallabies are paid $14,000 a test match. The Socceroos for the World Cup Qualifiers were paid $20,000 each. The similarities are clear.

The FFA would be wise to cast a glance in rugby’s direction over the next two years and watch carefully what they do to right the ship, because football could find itself in a similar position in tow or four years.

Football’s sudden clarion call for a home-grown national coach, has nothing to do with the successful A-League coaches being ready to take the reins, it comes down to the final realisation that those charged with developing players have under-performed and Australia faces the very real prospect of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and losing the $10-12million windfall that comes from qualifying. The truth is, as Ange Postecoglou stated ‘it should be the best man for the job,’ however that will have to be tempered with the clause, based on the funds on offer.

Why does Australian sport suddenly find itself in this position? Let’s face it cricket is not in a much better position either. Have Australia’s sports administrators made the same mistakes that many European top flight football clubs have made, ‘lived the dream,’ and spent beyond their means to remain at the top?

They have paid the top players well, but they have failed to bring through the second wave of players. With World Cups in each sport regeneration should take place after every world cup finals; but worldwide it rarely does. In football only Brazil have won back to back World Cups, and that was back in 1958 and 1962. In cricket the West Indies won two in a row, while Australia achieved a hat-trick of successes from 1999-2007*, in rugby no team has defended their World Cup crown successfully.

To compete consistently hard decisions need to be made as to when to drop players and bring in new talent, but just as important is while you are successful the money that success generates must be invested at the bottom of the sport, and not chewed up by those at the top. It is crucial that this happens across many sports in the next few years if Australia is to once again compete at the levels many expect.

* From their 1999 World Cup victory to the 2003 one, only five players remained in the Australian side: Gilchrist, Ponting, Lehmann, Bevan and McGrath. From 2003 to their 2007 success there were six: Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Symonds, Hogg and McGrath. On both occasions they defended their title close to half the team was rejuvenated. Only three players played in all three winning finals, Gilchrist, Ponting and McGrath.

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