The AFL is Federation all over again!

I’m currently working on Australian constitutional law and it strikes me that the creation of the AFL is very much like what happened when Australia federated. The States created the Commonwealth which then took on a life of its own and made the States its beggars. Now the AFL, created by the clubs, has taken on a life of its own and even created new clubs and forced others to merge.
The clubs bear some resemblance to the old Australian colonies with their imperfect democracy, but the AFL is more like a junta. We value our democracy, yet we put up with football dictatorship! Constitutional reform will be a hard road as we will have to start with the clubs. but it is a battle we must fight in both football and politics!


  1. Intertesting parallels when I reflect on it Matt. All comes down to money. In both cases the vector for the power shift was $. The golden rule is he who makes the gold makes the rules.
    Modern government and modern elite sport are all about the power and influence that money can buy. There is little appeal to ideology and policy in a cynical ‘what have you done for me lately’ society (the cynicism may be well founded but it debases any concept of the common good).
    The death of the States was WW2 when taxing powers were ‘temporarily’ transferred to the Commonwealth never to return. States are now administrative bodies with little real control over the big policy levers, which are all in Canberra. That is why they (except WA that has mining royalties) prostitute themselves to the predatory gambling industry – it is the only dance in town for growth taxes.
    Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ is alive in the power of the gambling and booze industries and the thrall they have over our society.
    AFL is the biggest media, sponsorship and advertising sport in Australia. The AFL is the gatekeeper that controls access to media generated advertising bounty.
    On the whole I view the AFL as a benevolent dictatorship – much like modern China. It takes its cut off the top for the powerbroker and then distributes enough to keep the mid level power brokers (eg clubs) in line. It is all sticks and carrots. The fourth estate is already beholden to advertisers and will never seriously threaten the hand that feeds it.
    That is why you go to the Almanac for serious debate about the deeper issues (Tatts Bet don’t feel too threatened by my rants to date).
    But the AFL see itself as a force for good and enough of the largesse reaches the fringes to keep State and local footy; minority groups; etc bubbling along and ‘inside the tent’.
    Good topic to think through the parallels and differences. Best of luck with constitutional law, Matt. I hated it – but Clive Palmer will always keep you fed.

  2. Dave Nadel says

    Good article but I don’t think the comparisons work,

    1. Only the Victorian clubs, Port Adelaide and to some extent Sydney represent pre-existing clubs. Federation involved six pre existing states. It created two territories which have been pretty powerless compared to the States. West Coast and Adelaide, which were created to join the AFL (still called VFL when the Eagles joined) are actually more powerful on and off the field than 75% ofthe older Victorian clubs.

    2. States are basically historical anachronisms. Australia would be both a more efficient and fairer society if the States had much less power, but there were more of them. Fifteen provinces with power over police and housing but with health and education transferred to the Commonwealth would make for a much healthier better educated country.

    On the other hand the clubs are not anachronisms. They are the heart of Australian football and the institution that the AFL most needs to preserve. Yes, the Commission needs some measure of control over the clubs or the rich clubs would run the competition to the detriment of the poor clubs, but the clubs as whole are essential to the AFL in a way that States are not essential to Australia.

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