Given the title of this post, I had better address the Thylacine in the room first up. We do have many unkind jokes about Tasmanians, the nicest being that the small population results in limited genetic diversity and therefore leads to them all being two headed and red haired.
That is now out of the way (spoiler alert: it is not out of the way and I will make witty digs about our southern cousins all through this posting), and I can start to get more serious about the recent announcement of a new Tasmanian AFL team, which will bring the total to 19 teams.
I have always been skeptical about the need for an AFL team in Tasmania. I have three reasons for that. The first is that I do not think, one or two headed (yes I still cannot resist), that the population of Tasmania (approx half a million according to the Census) is large enough to sustain one team. The second is that the AFL is, these days, all about growing the TV audience. As Tasmania is already hopelessly devoted to Australian Rules Football, I do not see that it is going to grow the TV market by any noticeable amount.
And the third reason is that there is a serious and somewhat toxic rivalry between the north and south parts of the Island, such that I have my doubts that they will all unite behind a state based team.
This latter reason has already manifested itself, with the resignation of two northern Tasmanian state MPs from the Liberal Party in protest at the announcement of the construction of a very expensive new stadium in Hobart (in the south of Tassie, for those of you unfamiliar with the geography).
I am not going to cite exact figures, but the Tasmanian government is funding about two thirds of the cost of this new stadium, and the Federal government is chipping in the other third. Many Tasmaniacs (I could not resist), particularly of the Greens and State Labor (not Federal mind you) persuasion, are quite concerned that the money could be better spent on relieving poverty and homelessness.
Having been to Hobart four times, and Launceston for one day of work meetings (it rained constantly), I do not envy those who would find themselves homeless down there. It is very cold and wet. I do not think regular displays of the Aurora Australis at night will compensate for the cold.
But this is all about Sport as a nation building tool. I love my Australian Rules Football, and my AFL team, very much. But as I would have written in this blog at various times, I am very skeptical about Sport being used in Australia for nationalistic purposes. We do this more here than anywhere in the world other than totalitarian regimes (places who really need something to distract from the constant spying, human rights abuses and shortages of the bare necessities of life).
Because Sport is seen as such a necessary nation building tool by our politicians, federal governments are quite happy to write large cheques to subsidise sporting competitions and large stadia, in exchange for a degree of control unhealthy for civil society. That an outlier to the Federation like Tasmania, which does feel very much like a poor half sister to the secessionistic and wealthy Western Australia, does not have an AFL team, is to nationalists an affront, regardless of the economic and demographic realities (ie that Tasmania cannot sustain a viable AFL team).
It also is a causus bellum for state politicians. Parochialism is always alive and well in sport – indeed it is the foundation of the supporter base for most clubs (just look at my own allegiance to the Western Bulldogs). And the Tasmanian government was quite happy to gamble on the popularity of forcing the creation of an AFL team, even if it costs the state a lot of money, instead of something boring like spending the money on public housing.
The AFL was quite happy to ignore the economic and demographic realities of sustaining a Tasmanian team for a very simple reason. It is not going to cost the AFL anything. All the cost is going to be borne by the state and federal governments. And the AFL knew that if it did not cooperate, it would suffer the downstream and implacable hostility from the Tasmanian government, and also lose the bipartisan goodwill it enjoys in Canberra. So it was all win-win for the AFL in making this choice, as opposed to lose-lose if it did not cooperate.
After all, the AFL has been successfully surfing the nationalist sentiment (and related political interest) behind the ideology of Sport As Nation Builder better than anyone other than the Olympic movement for the past 30 years. It does not want to fall off the board.
So let’s all enjoy our new AFL team. Hopefully it is able to do better than GWS and the Gold Coast have since our last big expansion.