AFL, fair competition and thought: the Bondi Effect

Yarra Park.
A local walks with an international visitor.

– So tell me again about this competition of yours.
– It’s called the Australian Football League.
– Ah, yes. Featuring teams from all over your magnificent country.
– No, not quite.
– Not quite?
– Well we have 18 teams in this competition.
– Yes.
– Nine of them are from suburban Melbourne.
– Ahh.
– The rest are from other parts of Australia.
– Ahh, of course, places of strong and traditional football interest.
– Not quite.
– Not quite?
– No, none are based in Tasmania. But we do have some in western Sydney and the Gold Coast now.

The visitor kicks a tuft of grass; exhales.

– Ahh, strange. But the competition itself is alive, yes? It is a live and fair competition? Each team plays each other twice; once at home and once away?
– No, not quite.
– Ahh, you are surely joking? The essence of a fair competition must be maintained.
– It turns out, no, actually. We have 23 rounds, usually 22 rounds, with teams playing some opposition once, others twice. There’s a rolling 5—year schedule of some sort, I’ve been told, which seems to be both rubbish (because Collingwood seems to play Essendon twice every year and the derbies seem to happen twice every year) and unhelpful (because premierships are decided over the course of one year, not cumulatively over 5).
– What farce is this? It is an outrage.

The local stops walking. Stands, legs astride. Hands on hips.

– People still watch.

The visitor stops now, too. They face each other in the spring sunshine.

– And the most successful team of the year is called the champion?
– Not quite. The champion is decided in a Grand Final.
– This is scandalous.
– It builds excitement; sells tickets.

– Of course, and this game is held at the home ground of the top-placed team?
– No, not quite. It’s always held in Melbourne.
– And this is seen as fair?
– No one has complained, yet.

If the visitor had a horse standing nearby, and the ability to ride this horse, this would be the moment were they would ride away into the sunset.
No horse stands nearby.

– You people astound me. Are your eyes open?
– It’s all just kind of happened over time. Like creep.
– But look at where you are now.
– It’s no good.
– No, it needs to be rebuilt. Start again. What about relegation?
– We have no relegation.
– Ah, so what is the incentive for the lower-placed teams late in the season?
– There is no incentive beyond pride.

The international visitor slaps themselves on the forehead in exasperation.

– No incentive beyond pride? Is money and gambling a fixture in your little competition? Is match-fixing not also an issue for your little competition?
– Not that I know of.
– Hmm… Do you know what I think?
– What?
– Wait; who is your Prime Minister this week?
– It’s still Malcolm Turnbull isn’t it?
– I think so. My point is: you Australians are an unthinking, uncritical people.
– That’s a bit rough.
– No, no. As an example, you vote in politicians with style over substance. You jump always at image. Image over substance.
– Harsh, mate.
– No, no. It’s the Bondi Effect. It’s where you are so transfixed by the superficial beauty of a person, idea, thing, such as a beach, that you are prepared to overlook its substantial failings, weaknesses, injustices, such as its open sewage.
– That’s catchy; the Bondi Effect. I like it…

Again the international visitor slaps their forehead; speaks inaudible words to the sky.

– Yes, surely now is a good time to re-visit the central tenets of good competition? Draft an ideal case.
– Mate, it’ll never happen. There’s too much TV money riding on the status quo.
– But this is a logical fallacy. The TV audience dries up without a true competition.
– Mate, don’t waste your breath.
– It is placing the cart before the horse.
– She’ll be right, mate. It’s gone alright for 100 years.
– Have these injustices always been present?
– Err… well no. No a 12-team suburban competition of 22 rounds was held until around 1987.

Both parties look to the great southern sky.

– Why don’t you think about fixing it? Please. Think.
– Hmmm… the Bondi effect; I like that.

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Midnight Oil – Section 5 (Bus to Bondi)

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    I do like your sense of humour

  2. Ahh – good one Cat.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Nailed it ER. With a great Oils track to finish. Well played.

  4. Matt Watson says

    We can try and explain it any way we can.
    It won’t change.
    We blindly accept it!
    And move on…

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Correct weight and all clear OBP it is a farce

  6. thanks Luke, Matt, OBP.
    But shouldn’t it change, Matt?
    Shouldn’t it change?

    This trade period, the grand announcements, the money, the effort…
    and all for a ‘competition’ with far too many holes to be credible.
    ‘Lipstick on a pig’ comes to mind.

  7. A thoughtful read Dave, and between your honesty and your visitor’s curiosity and exasperation, you seem to have exposed some of the main problems the game has yet to deal with. The unequal fixture, the Melbourne-centricity, the triumph of money over ideals – and then there are the problems he didn’t even twig to.

    Apart from the Swans – and even they are one bad season way from financial problems – the northern clubs are doing it hard, especially in Brisbane where both clubs are perpetually leaking players, mainly because of the go-home factor. Of course the academies are set up partly to deal with that, but the Melbourne-centric don’t want the academies to achieve their goal And just look at the mess Free Agency has created, where poorer clubs are pillaged for their talent, who of course want to go to more successful clubs and win premierships. And so on.

    I was a bit worried about the Bondi effect, thinking “Oh no, not more Buddy nonsense!” but I thought it came across quite well. I bet your visitor didn’t know about the old sewage problem.

  8. G’day Don.
    Thanks very much. My imaginary visitor acted just as I’d hoped.

    I’ve been wondering about the trade period.
    I guess it’s no surprise that players (of today) would prefer to play at Hawthorn, for the allure of premiership success. I gather that people generally move from a socialist mindset to a more self-centred mindset as they age (and acquire personal wealth).
    Maybe what we are seeing with free agency is the footballing equivalent of an end-of-working-age self-centredness.’Bugger the one-club ideal, I’m off for a shot at premiership success.”

    Maybe so.

    It calls into question the reason for playing, though, I’d say.
    Surely the reason for playing is for community, for testing oneself against the best, for camaraderie. All this remains for the one-club-idealist.
    If the reason for playing is to know premiership success, there are a lot of people failing every year.
    Interesting motives all round. Thanks.

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