One wonders if they will be raising a toast today at AFL Headquarters to mark the 90th anniversary of the execution of the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II and his family by the Bolsheviks. They might, because the AFL appears to be one of the last bastions of Communist Russia’s obsession with central planning.

The AFL Commissioners, or perhaps more appropriately Commissars, are determined to go ahead, irrespective of the facts, with plans for AFL teams in Western Sydney and the Gold Coast, and in doing so ignore AFL mad Tasmania’s bid to join the competition. It reminds one of the disastrous Five Year Plans of the Soviet Union in which Moscow decreed how much wheat and widgets would be produced in any one year and in which town or region irrespective of economic, climate or social conditions.

That AFL chief Andrew Demetriou has the mindset of a 1930s Soviet central planner was made clear again this week when he trotted out his absurd formulaic response to the question of Tasmania’s current bid for an AFL team. According to Demetriou, Tasmania is “absolutely entitled to put forward a proposal, but the commission has already decided where the 17th and 18th teams are going.”

This is a bit like a comrade working away deep on the bowels of the Kremlin and telling the good folk of the Tashkent Cotton Cooperative that they are welcome to produce the finest quality cotton in the country, but it has already been decided to buy inferior cotton from the comrades in the Ukraine.

In last weekend’s Fairfax newspapers Roy Masters outlined just how much like swimming through mud the AFL’s experience in Western Sydney is likely to be. And Masters revealed how, like the good old Soviet central planners, the AFL manipulates figures to mask the reality of its poor showing in Sydney and on the Gold Coast.

According to Masters, the AFL, unlike the NRL, counts kids who participate in Auskick clinics, but who do not necessarily play competition AFL in its figures, but even then the picture is grim.

“AFL figures for Sydney’s west list 1010 players, including 359 Auskick players, while there are 936 registered rugby league players in Melbourne. Newcastle, included in AFL data as part of greater Sydney, has declining numbers of children playing AFL — and that includes the Auskick figures,” wrote Masters.

And, says Masters, the AFL “is also capable of creative crowd counting” on the Gold Coast. The AFL “reported an attendance of 9128 at Carrara Stadium for the recent North versus St Kilda match, yet Ticketek figures show only 3900 tickets were sold; 3000 were free and there were more than 2000 ‘add-ons’,” Masters said.

Then there is public opinion. Like the Bolsheviks and their successors in the Kremlin, the AFL Commissars will never let the people’s voice get in the way of their pre-determined planning. A recent survey conducted by the Herald-Sun found 81% of respondents preferred a Tasmanian team to a Western Sydney side.

Who cares, seems to be the response from the AFL Commissars as they blunder on with their fanciful Five Year Plan. Who said central planning was dead?

Peter Fray

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