On the Essendon saga

Charles Pickett writes: Re. “Rundle: Don to a turn — how spivs and moguls killed the AFL” (yesterday). Crikey really should stay away from sport, its commentary on that subject is invariably embarrassing. Witness Guy Rundle’s attempt to frame the Essendon debacle as an example of market-induced erosion of local loyalties and social values.

Leaving aside the fact that AFL doesn’t get to first base as an example of commercial image-making — where do you buy Essendon shirts in Barcelona? — Rundle is apparently unaware that match fixing and cheating in sport is often concentrated at the local end of sport, where media and official oversight is weakest. If it can be bet on, it can be worth fixing.  There is a long history of sporting skulduggery in Rundle’s sepia toned bastions of working class values, as the career of Melbourne’s John Wren attests.

The poobahs of the AFL may indeed be the main culprits, but for believing their big fish/tiny pond status would protect them from those who saw cheating as more than a public relations problem. In other words, a specifically parochial delusion, helped along by the fawning of the Melbourne establishment and media. Crikey is just tagging along with this crowd.

Cameron Bray writes: Guy Rundle is spot on that the spivification of our national game sits at the heart of the odious wreckage that is the Dons. No doubt many out there will shake their heads and say, well yeah, but what you going to do about it? The commodification and corporatisation of sport as just another arm of the entertainment industry is just part of the modern world. Marketisation is like the weather, right? Everyone complains but no-one does anything.

Well they’d be wrong of course. German football is a fantastic counter-example of what happens when a sport stays true to itself and its fans. The core of it is the ‘50+1’ rule: Bundesliga clubs are required to be majority-owned by German club members.

The result is low ticket prices and big crowds (ya reckon that MIGHT be related? or do you want me to draw you a demand curve) in modern stadiums and serving full strength beer to boot (again – reckon having a real stake in a club as a part of life, not just a brand, makes you behave like a civilised human being – Human Capital 101 anyone?).

By any measure the Bundesliga is one of the most successful sports league in the world, except for the most important metrics of course, around centralisation of money, power and profit into the smallest possible circle.

The Bundesliga shows us the path not travelled: the transition from VFL to AFL could have been, should have been,  so much better. But like most other facets of modern Australia, its all about the payoff of private splendour for public squalor.

On the history of the NBN

David Edmunds writes: Re. “Who you should blame for the NBN (hint: not just Turnbull)” (yesterday). It is quite reasonable to put the whole of the blame on Turnbull.

While of course Josh is correct in his history of telecommunications in Australia, he seems to miss the point that this was recognised by Senator Conroy as minister. Senator Conroy attempted to solve the infrastructure problem with the help of the existing companies, but could not convince them to work with him.

The NBN was conceived as a way of cutting the Gordian knot of Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure dilemma. Abbott as opposition leader then directed Turnbull as shadow minister to destroy the NBN. Turnbull managed to change this policy to one that recognised the need for better infrastructure, but had to develop a model that was sufficiently different from that of Labor to provide room for criticism of Labor.

However, the design of Labor’s NBN was astonishingly good. The hope was that following the 2013 election, Turnbull as communications minister would declare Labor’s NBN a complete disaster, and then build it more or less as planned.

But he did not do that. Instead he insisted that the plan be changed to incorporate a range of obsolete and second-rate technical solutions, as he proposed when in opposition. The cost of this second-rate solution is pretty much the same as the original Labor plan. So he sabotaged the future-proofed and well-designed NBN.

Given that money was not the problem, and in government Abbott probably didn’t care much, the destruction of the NBN is pretty much down to Turnbull alone.

Josh Taylor replies: It’s not really missing the point, just providing context for Australia’s sordid history of telecommunications. As you’ll note in the article I did say that those policy decisions “ultimately led to the Rudd Labor government deciding to pursue a government-owned and built fibre-to-the-premises network from 2009”. Yes, Telstra did not play ball when the former Labor government wanted to build an FttN network with Telstra, but that is a topic for a longer article.

Peter Fray

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