The Great Divide

AFL’s multi-million investment into the heartland of rugby league has sparked a more tense rivalry between the two sporting codes. With the inclusion of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, to West Sydney, where the Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers, Canterbury Bulldogs and Wests Tigers of the NRL hail has certainly heated up this new so-called ‘Turf War’.

Addressing the rivalry between the two sporting codes, NRL head honcho, David Gallop, said, “There’s no doubt it’s a competitive landscape, but we are concentrating on what we do, and what we do is pretty unique in Australia sport.”

The rivalry, I believe, stems from the intense inter-city rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. With AFL being the main sporting code in the state of Victoria and rugby league presiding predominantly in New South Wales, and the almost reluctance of the two states of accepting the opposing sport, the rivalry most probably emanates from this. The two sports have, of course, expanded into different cities and states but the base of the two codes are still situated in these states.

Being originally from the US, this rivalry provided to be actually quite baffling for me. In the States, sports co-exist with each other. Take Dallas, Texas as an example. People love the Rangers (baseball), support the Cowboys (football) and rally for the Mavericks (basketball). There is no so-called ‘rivalry’ between what is known as the ‘big three’ sporting disciplines in the US. Fans cheer for their respective city’s team, not the actual sport itself. So coming to Australia where there is this hostility between league and AFL, has me at a loss.

In the States you see the professional sports teams spread across the country in every major city, just like in Australia. The people who love their sports, however, will go to games of their favourite teams in all the sporting codes. To use myself as an example, I have been to games in all of the ‘big three’ sports back in Dallas. Granted, baseball is my preferred sport, but I also love watching the Mavericks and the Cowboys play as well. Children in the US would play baseball in the spring, football in the summer/fall and basketball in the winter. You could say that the sports live harmoniously with each other.

So why can’t rugby league and Aussie rules co-exist in a country where sports holds such a high pedigree. Australians are extremely passionate about sports and I love that about this country. However, I feel as though a peaceful collaboration between the two could result in higher ticket sales for teams, even more passion and a much more intense rivalry between teams in the NRL and AFL, instead of with each other. The inter-city rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney could potentially be greater with the teams having the full-backing of their entire city. Granted, there are people who follow both AFL and league, but there are plenty more who are against one or the other. I have encountered many individuals who despise either one of the sports and many more who have not even watched or played a full game of league or AFL, let alone understand the rules to one or the other.

Now that the AFL has infiltrated what is known as the heartland of rugby league, the rivalry between the two sports has become more evident. Although, this ‘Turf war’ is somewhat fascinating for a Yank like me, I believe there is no reason why the AFL and NRL can’t enjoy each other’s company. Rivalries should be seen between teams, not sports.