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Is Global Reach Helping Or Hurting AFL?

Australian football has grown in popularity over the years. The increased media coverage of the sport has made the game more accessible not just to fans in Australia but around the world as well. But is that global coverage helping or hurting the sport? Some have argued that the fact that the game is becoming more prevalent globally is actually hurting Aussie Rules, but do those arguments hold any water?

A lot of the recent criticism surrounding the global influence of Aussie Rules has come from the introduction of unique competitions like AFLX. The preseason competition doesn’t count for anything but completely changes the way that the sport is played, introducing a rectangular field that is believed to prompt a faster paced style of play that those in charge of the sport hope makes the game more fan-friendly.

Of course, purists believe that this move is the AFL bowing to the demands of a global market instead of continuing to play to the fans of the sport that have been there since the beginning. And given that Australians are the ones filling the seats at AFL grounds and are largely the ones taking the sport in, that is a fair argument to make.

But what that argument doesn’t take into account is the fact that experimenting with new styles of play can make the sport more fun as a whole, for everyone involved. Take American football as an example, whose style of play is one of the closest to Aussie Rules in the world of sport. Decades ago, teams wouldn’t have dreamed of playing the sport the way that it is played now, using high-powered passing offences to move the ball down the field. And if the evolution of that sport led to unrivalled popularity, there is no reason the same can’t be done in Aussie Rules.
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Then there is one of the great benefits to the globalisation of Aussie Rules, which is the influx of new talent into the game. There are currently 13 international players in the AFL, which more than doubles the all-time amount to have played in the league previously. And with more Irish athletes attempting to get into the game, the sport as a whole will only get healthier, with the level of competition being raised.

Of course, those concerned with the globalisation of the AFL shouldn’t worry too much, as the rosters of AFL teams are still nearly entirely Australian. For instance, the 2019 AFL Grand Final Aussie Rules betting favourites, Richmond Tigers, have zero of the international players in the league on their team. Therefore, it stands to reason that the best Aussie Rules play in the world is still coming from Australia, which should calm down those scared of Australia’s game being lost to the rest of the globe.

With another AFL season to look forward to, there are plenty of concerns that supporters can have about their favourite teams. But the dangers of the AFL growing outside of the borders of Australia should not be one of them at this time.

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