It landed on Friday already branded as “The Carter Report” for its author, and will probably remain so, but for the record, the actual title of Colin Carter’s 24 pages of findings was: “A licence for a Tasmanian team?”
Given its commissioning by AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and commission chairman Richard Goyder, the real title might have been read with “Tasmanian” in incredulous italics. Sadly for Tasmanians, the net effect of its 13,000 words is no more inspiring.
First, to the executive summary, beyond which many will never venture. Yes, Carter says, “Tasmania should be represented by a team” — a case that “rests on historical fairness and that the finances stack up”.
And no, the case against the team has no great merit, presenting instead a circular argument: it would rely no more on AFL handouts than most existing clubs; the problem of Tasmanians “losing interest” in footy might well be resolved by, you know, having something to be interested in.
Inevitably, perhaps, Carter becomes gradually less emphatic in his three key suggestions for a way forward:
- Option 1: Tasmania gets a 19th AFL licence and goes it alone (the most desirable option for Tasmanians — the only option, say true believers — but the least appealing to the other 18 clubs, who are not keen on competing with one more snout at the trough)
- Option 2: the relocation of an existing team (flashbacks to crying Fitzroy fans)
- Option 3: a “joint venture between Tasmanian stakeholders and a Victorian team that secures strong support in two markets” (watch out for bum splinters up on that fence)
Perhaps many will have zoned out by this point, but on page 22 Carter finally cuts to the chase, rather glaringly contradicting his earlier numbering system and stating that his first option was actually his last.
Former AFL coach Robert Shaw, whose job description now should be “the soul of Tasmanian football”, summed up option 3 in a tweet.
Sure enough, Carter’s options — plus the normal disclaimers that the biggest invoices would need to be paid from the public purse, and that other clubs should give their verdicts only when COVID-19 is gone — were described by some of the loudest voices on the mainland as “landmark” findings. More sober onlookers might have termed them “a bunch of things we already knew”.
So, we’re all in the same position as before: North Melbourne fans shift uneasily and the many of Shaw’s fellow Tasmanians who do care deeply about footy — the ones grossly misrepresented in statements about “waning interest” and “north-south divide” — emit their familiar sigh, asking when the AFL will finally stop “kicking the can down the road”, as Carter puts it.
They should also just return to the only point that matters: the business case has been made. There is no other compelling reason for Tasmania to be denied its own team or for delaying their entry beyond 2025.
‘The onus of proof is not on Tasmania’
When Carter’s report is read in 10, 20, 30 years’ time, it might be more interesting as an uncharacteristically honest “official” look at the AFL landscape in 2021, which inevitably leads to the odd zinger.
“The AFL’s ‘purpose’ is expressed as: ‘Progress the game, so that everyone can share in its heritage and possibilities,'” is an early quote, with a passive-aggressive chaser from Carter: “Presumably this applies to Tasmania.”
Carter likes it so much, he later repeats it with an extra flourish: “It seems fair to argue that the onus of proof is not on Tasmania to justify its inclusion. It is on those who say it should stay excluded.”
Implied are two criticisms: the AFL doesn’t know its own history, nor does it sufficiently embrace the reasons it currently exists.
Carter explains the dwindling attendances at games for which the Tasmanian government currently pays exorbitant fees to North Melbourne and Hawthorn in terms the AFL never would.
“AFL fixturing mostly sends ‘away’ teams to Tasmania that draw small crowds in Melbourne, and which have never been supported by Tasmanians. That these games draw modest crowds is no surprise,” he writes.
In a roundabout way, Carter also reveals a harsh truth that dwindling passion for the game, if it is occurring anywhere, is in its supposed stronghold of Victoria.
He cites figures that say Richmond, St Kilda and Geelong’s combined total of 35,000 “11-game” members attend, on average, only two games per season.
And how’s this dose of reality for the jumped-up dealmakers in clubland?
“To only accept a Tasmanian team if it can pay its way without competition support is looking at the issue in the wrong way. Furthermore, many of our own AFL teams don’t pass that test and will not do so for the next 100 years,” the report reads.
Tasmanian football, of course, has survived 150 years — not in rude health, but with a dormant fan base that can quite obviously see it through another 100.
A licence for a Tasmanian team?
“The AFL’s Purpose is not to maximise shareholder value but rather to maximise enjoyment of our game,” Carter states in his report.
There is a more succinct line later: “It is the right thing to do.”
Time then, to do it properly.