Australia to pick ‘Indigenous All-Stars’ for International Rules series
Future of series in doubt as AFL will select squad from just 11% of available players
Adam Goodes of the Sydney Swans would be eligible for the team and captained Australia against Ireland in the 2010 series. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Not for the first time the future of the International Rules is in doubt as the GAA comes to grips with Australia’s decision to send a team of exclusively indigenous players to next October’s series.
For now the decision has been greeted with some mild surprise and thinly-veiled concern within Croke Park, if not in the competitive sense then certainly in the promotional sense, as indigenous players account for only 11 per cent of the AFL playing population, and automatically rules out some of the better known non-indigenous players.
While that will significantly lessen the international dimension to the series, it mightn’t necessarily lesson the competitive edge: but with public interest already waning, especially after Ireland won out easily Down Under in 2011, it can’t help that Australia will now be fielding a team that’s not representative of all of the best players in the AFL.
How the GAA promote that remains to be seen – but the idea first surfaced back in May, without any consultation with the GAA, and was confirmed at an AFL press conference in Melbourne yesterday, that their team for 2013 will be known as the “Indigenous All-Stars”.
Indeed the Australians are already billing it as the first all-indigenous team to represent a sporting code at senior level overseas since their first cricket team toured England in 1868: The term “indigenous” is widely inclusive and includes those of Aboriginal descent and also the Torres Strait islanders, but account for just 2.5 per cent of Australia’s overall population.
It was AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou who first aired the idea, back May, having first canvassed the views of indigenous players.
“All the soundings were pointing that way, that it was their intention to go with indigenous players, and we certainly didn’t hear that anything had changed in the meantime,” said Pat Daly, Croke Park’s director of games development and research, who is also the principal technical liaison with the AFL in respect of the international series.
“There has also been talk from their end about trying to reinvigorate the series, and whether this will take from it, or add from it, really depends on what way you look at it.
“But the critical issue from a GAA perspective is that we want a competitive Australian team. It’s no secret that we didn’t get that the last time. At the end of the day, as long as the team is competitive, that’s the only thing that matters to us.”
There are currently 79 indigenous players on AFL teams lists (11 per cent of the total), although this does include some of the most successful names, including Sydney’s dual Brownlow Medallist Adam Goodes, who already captained Australia against Ireland in 2010, and also star Hawthorn forwards Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli.