GWS and NRL Converts- The Bigger Picture

I am by no means surprised by the negative reaction to Folau’s signing.  Not too long ago I completed a Master’s thesis about the commercialisation of sport and the impact this has had on the sporting community.  I wrote about how games were once an expression of the people, where citizens gathered for a common cause and worked together with a sense of fun and spontaneity to express shared interests and values.  The VFL, at its founding, showed many of these characteristics, and all of its clubs were a result of the passion and uprising of its community.

This is no longer the case.  Sport and sporting teams are no longer necessarily a result of an uprising of passion from the grassroots.  They are no longer produced from the ‘bottom up.’  If that was the case, Tasmania would have produced an AFL football team long ago. Today, the AFL picks a profitable market, produces a team, and sells it to consumers.  It’s manufactured from the ‘top down’ like ‘entertainers’ who come out of Australian Idol, the X Factor and other profit making juggernauts.  Personally, I think it’s a shame.

However, I do hope through all of this that people do not take aim at Team GWS, Kevin Sheedy and in particular, Israel Folau.  They are simply trying to build a club.  As I’ve already stated, Team GWS will not be built from the ‘bottom up.’  It will not be the result of an over flowing passion and will of the locals.  Its heartbeat did not begin with the sound of supporters running to see them play.  No, the AFL wants a team there – and nobody within shouting distance gives a damn about it.

So, they need to attract attention.  It is far too simplistic to suggest that ‘the game will sell itself.’  It just doesn’t happen.  You could send Chris Judd, Gary Abblett, Jonathan Brown and Nick Riewoldt up to GWS and nobody in the GWS region would care.  However, you take a couple of high profile rugby league players and everyone will start talking.  Perhaps a few thousand will even come and watch them play.

Folau and Hunt are obviously young men who don’t mind a challenge.  Surely they would’ve known the stir their transfer was going to make.  Surely they are aware of how difficult the challenge ahead will be.  Surely they are aware that many, many people are sitting, hoping and waiting for them to fail.  Surely they are aware that their move could damage the NRL brand.  And yet, they are willing and ready for the challenge.  Sure, the money is a big factor, but the only factor?  I don’t think so.

Some members of the Sydney press – clearly in a negative and slightly angry and bewildered mood – said they had trouble understanding what Kevin Sheedy was on about when he spoke at Tuesday’s press conference.  Surely they do not lack the skills to understand English?  Kevin Sheedy stated that he’d played, coached and lived his entire career taking risks and stepping forward gamely.  He stated that he’s never had a lot of time for negative thoughts, opinions and expressions and that this is a huge challenge.  He said he’s ready for it.  He said Team GWS will succeed and if you don’t like it, Team GWS doesn’t really care.

I hope Folau is a roaring success.  I hope young kids from Greater Western Sydney are spellbound by his talents.  I hope they look at him as a role model and ask their mums and dads to take them along to the see him play.  Just because they attend an AFL match one day, doesn’t mean they can’t attend the NRL tomorrow – there need not be a war.  I hope they purchase a Team GWS membership. I hope their parents do too.

The NRL will survive – only two players have signed with the AFL, not 200 – and so will all of the other AFL players who believe they are underpaid.  Mind you, I don’t see too many of them putting their hands up to head to Team GWS. Perhaps the challenge would be too big for them.  As for all of the VFL players that want a spot in the AFL – Israel Foloa is only taking one spot on the Team GWS list.

The AFL has given the coaches and administrators of Team GWS the most difficult task in the history of the game.  And, I for one love the game so much, I hope they succeed.  Israel Folau may be just what they need to do that.

About Sam Duncan

My name is Sam Duncan, a very passionte, slightly one eyed and mostly optimistic Essendon supporter. Originally from Yarrawonga, the home of the mighty Pigeons, I moved to Melbourne to go to Swinburne Universtiy in 2002. Feeling right at home as a uni student, I stayed for a long, long time, completing an undergraduate degree in media and communications, an Honours and Masters degree in the same field, and finally, a PhD in sport, media and cultural studies. I'm the author of 'Rolling with the Punches: Tales of an Aussie Traveller', lecturer in the Bachelor of Sports Media at Holmesglen and boundary rider for AFL Live. I love footy. I love Essendon. Go Bombers!


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Sydney people not understanding Kevin Sheedy? That’s hilarious.

    I hope the new teams do well. I’m surprised at the negativity and doubt about players being able to swap codes successfully. These days kids grow up playing several different sports at school and really it shouldn’t matter too much if the basic athletic talent is there. Remember the days when people played one sport in winter and one in summer? It’s great that the profile of Aussie rules is growing.

  2. Brad Carr says

    I have no problem at all with the Folau experiment (or the money he’s on), and I’d like to see him succeed. The league needs to take some bold steps if our game is going to make a serious mark on the NSW sporting landscape, so good them for giving this a go. I also give Folau a better probability of making it than Karmichael Hunt.

    Each of the ‘converts’ have a lot to learn and develop, and will take time. From all reports, Folau is a very disciplined, focused young man, who may well have the dedication and patience to keep working at something that might take him (say) 4 years. He apparently takes his status as a role model for his religion very seriously, so he’s probably pretty driven at being successful in all that he does.

    I’m a lot less convinced about Hunt, who has had a few off-field misdemeanours, and strikes me as the kind of personality that will get frustrated and start reconsidering his commitment when things don’t come easy for him. Perhaps I’m doing him an injustice from far, and I hope he does succeed and prove me wrong – we’ll see.

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