Instead of trying to “gag” the NSW Origin selectors,
the chief executive of the ARL,
Geoff Carr, ought to be asking questions about the allocation of Australian
Sports Commission funding for the four football codes.

On top of the extraordinarily generous grants and
loans the Federal Government gave soccer when it “restructured” several years
ago – over $12 million in total – the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has
shown a clear bias in its annual allocations to the four football codes.

And the question needs to be asked – what are the
National Rugby League, Australian Football League and Australian Rugby Union
doing about it?

I am grateful to the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Roy
Masters – who happens to be a Member of the Australian Sports Commission – not
only for his revelations about how much the Federal Government lent soccer and
how much it still owes, but just how unbalanced the annual payments to the
football codes are. His piece seems to have
been lost in the flurry of publicity for the World Cup, but it raises some
serious issues.

For the 2005-2006 year, the ASC allocated $2.812
million to Football Federation Australia (FFA), the controlling body of soccer
in Australia. In
the same year, the AFL was
allocated $466,000, the ARL
$528,000 and the ARU $454,000. In other words, the allocation to soccer is more than
double the total allocation to the other three football codes!

Out of the FFA allocation, half is for the Australian
Institute of Sports soccer program – six times the allocation for each of the
other codes. The beneficiaries of AIS soccer scholarships include at least
three of the Croatian World Cup team! The other half of the annual allocation is for the
development of sport – and on that score, soccer gets five times as much as the
other three codes.

Does anyone seriously suggest that soccer in Australia –
whether at the grassroots or any other level – is twice as big as the other
three codes combined?

The AFL and
the ARL in particular need to explain what
they have done to get a fair go for their codes out of what is
taxpayer-provided funding. Both codes leave soccer in the shade when it
to programs for Indigenous and remote regional youth, yet their
funding is but a fraction of soccer’s.

And the NRL and AFL
officials, players and supporters most entitled to an answer are those
struggling to keep their codes alive in the bush. At the weekend it was
revealed that no fewer than three of the Groups in the New South Wales Country
Rugby League are on the brink of collapse.

The FFA, utilising the likes of Frank Lowy and Alan
Belford Jones, has been extraordinarily successful in lobbying for federal
government funding. Successful yes, but is it fair and just?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey