Melbourne’s claims to the title of Sports Capital of the World have been exposed this week as a sham, a hollow of piece of self-publicity that stands up to no scrutiny.

Rugby league’s showpiece, the State of Origin series, is being played tonight at Etihad Stadium (in the SCOTW) — yet you’d hardly know it. The media coverage has been threadbare and, worse than that, a series of howlers by local politicians and respected media outlets have revealed a startling level of ignorance about rugby league and an introspective inward-looking parochialism that makes a mockery of any SCOTW boast.

During an embarrassing pre-origin address beamed live across the country on Monday, Victorian Minister for Sport and Recreation Hugh Delahunty referred to the game as “the State of the Origin match”.

In an error-riddled speech, Delahunty then had Queensland playing against “New Zealand” at Etihad Stadium, while the NSW side was supposedly captained by Paul “Callan” instead of Gallen.

You’d like to think as Sports Minister in the SCOTW you’d make it your business to know about this event, which the Victorian government has paid upwards of $2 million to host. Like who’s playing, what the series is called, and even some players’ names.

Delahunty, you might not be surprised to learn, once played 46 VFL games for Essendon from 1971-73. His footballing world clearly stops and starts at the great southern code.

That attitude permeates throughout the city. 3AW’s Neil Mitchell is emblematic of it. He never wastes a chance to lambast the league “blockheads” from up north, and won’t listen to any suggestion that the game — especially at state-of-origin level — is actually a wonderful spectacle.

This morning, The Age sport section carried a back-page pointer to its State of Origin story inside. It read: “Why David Carney may be the man to end Queensland’s state-of-origin dominance”. It ran alongside a picture of Todd Carney, the NSW five-eighth. (David Carney is an Australian soccer player who currently plays as a left winger for Uzbekistani club FC Bunyodkor.)

If the most respected broadsheet in the state can’t get it right, what hope have we got?

Visitors from NSW and Queensland have flooded into Melbourne this week for the match. Most have been puzzled by the lack of buzz about the game. There was already disquiet among the league diehards about holding Game #1 outside Sydney or Brisbane, and especially in an AFL stronghold where, it was felt, the locals did not appreciate the code’s showpiece, just treated it with indifference.

Events of the past few days will have only hardened those attitudes.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou isn’t going to the game tonight because by attending he would give the rival code some sort of credibility — or PR boost — in Melbourne. I imagine that’s his warped thinking.

Honestly, how pathetic. How small-minded and unstatesmanlike.

But perhaps not so surprising. Because when it comes to an appreciation of world-class sport, Melbourne — with the help of the likes of  Delahunty and Demetriou — has proved itself this week not so much a sporting capital as a provincial backwater.

*This article was published at sports opinion website Back Page Lead

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey