The AFL has once again kicked the can about as far down the road as it possibly can when it comes to a potential – and extremely long-overdue – team based out of Tasmania. That’s the only logical conclusion to be drawn from the much mythologised Carter Report into a potential Tassie Team, which the league released to the public today.

That report, conducted by former Geelong President Colin Carter, gave the rather vague assertion that while a 19th AFL side – a standalone team based in Tasmania – was entirely possible, the much more “formidable” options involved either relocating an existing and willing side to Tassie, or the rather baffling option of a “joint venture” side; one that essentially siphons Tasmanian money like a parasitic sponge by playing most of its home games in the state without ever committing to moving administrative headquarters or shouldering the responsibility of Tasmanian football identity beyond, perhaps, a few cheap merchandising options.

Though obtuse in its ultimate conclusions, the reading between the lines of the Carter Report isn’t hard: the AFL enjoys its current arrangement with Tasmania – one that sees Hawthorn and North Melbourne send “unprofitable” home games to Launceston and Hobart respectively – and would like that gravy train to keep rolling.

That much is apparent in AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan‘s delivery of the report this morning. With repeated references to the financial impact the COVID pandemic has had on the league, McLachlan simply stated that a discussion on the Tasmanian recommendations would be put to club presidents at an undetermined point down the road.

The ideas of relocation or “joint venture” are insulting. Tasmanian fans will not gel around something that is not wholly their own. That much should have been viscerally apparent at the recent Hawthorn/Essendon game in Launceston. A game that will likely never appear in Tasmania again – it’s a “profitable” match up under normal circumstances in Victoria – it was a near-instant sell out. The entire ground was awash in supporters clad in Essendon red & black. After 21 years squatting in Launceston, Hawthorn are not the only show in town. Barring some sort of rapture-like event that spirits away anyone not wearing brown and yellow, they never will be. For the “joint venture” scenario, that’s a problem.

How dare the AFL suggest that Tasmania, a heartland state with footballing history just as rich – if not richer – than Victoria’s, just shut up and shoulder some other club’s legacy as their own. That burden wasn’t placed on the Gold Coast, nor was the onus on them to “capture the Victorian market” prior to the Suns entering the league.

And to that end, what good does throwing an existing club to the wolves of relocation speculation do? Inevitably when talks of an AFL relocation crop up, attention turns to North Melbourne. But in North Melbourne you have a profitable, debt-free organisation sporting record membership numbers. Unfairly turning the magnifying glass on that is simply an exercise in bullying the (comparatively) small to spare the big having to self-examine their own positions.

Premier Peter Gutwein has gone on the offensive since the report’s publication this morning, asserting “We want to run and operate our own team. We don’t want to rent one,” and that if the AFL continues to keep the state at arm’s length, then the Hawthorn and North Melbourne contracts are as good as dust.

“If the AFL does not meet that timeline and if we can’t get to a decision by the end of the year we will not expect any more excuses and if that means that AFL content is not in Tasmania next year then be it on the AFL’s head,” Gutwein stated.

With the exception of this year, in which the state has acted like a life raft for the COVID-affected season, both Hawthorn and North Melbourne have been producing steadily diminishing returns in the state. Hawthorn’s average attendance in Launceston has dropped from 16,173 in 2010 to 13,992 in 2019, the AFL’s last non-pandemic season. In the south North Melbourne’s average attendance in Hobart has dipped below 10,000. That’s a resounding disendorsement from Tassie’s footy faithful.

One of the few reasons to indefinitely extend these current arrangements is to sustain the boost they provide to the Tasmania’s tourism sector. But if those returns keep trending down, it’s hard to see that as being sustainable long-term.

What is sustainable, however, is a standalone Tasmanian side battling it out against the AFL’s best on home soil.

Tasmania vs Essendon.

Tasmania vs Collingwood.

Tasmania vs West Coast or Richmond or Sydney or Geelong.

Harnessing the rusted-on, splintered fanbases of generations of Tasmanians who grew up arbitrarily following mainland sides while building something special, and foundational, that is wholly Tasmanian? It’s a cliche, but it rings true: If you build it, they will come. The Essendon game in Launceston handily proves that.

The onerous hoops the league has put in front of Tasmania – hoops that were never even remotely considered during the Gold Coast and GWS expansion period – continue to be cleared, only for more to be placed in the way.

The Carter Report’s opening lines read “The case for Tasmania is strong, and the recommendation is that Tasmania should be represented by a team in the AFL/AFLW national competitions.” It should have ended there.

For the thousandth time, no one is asking for a Tasmanian team to be admitted to the league tomorrow, this week, or even next year. The state simply wants a pathway, and a timeline, to be laid out and committed to. Nothing more than that.

The AFL has the capacity to make these decisions. They have the resources to set the timeline, even if it’s for ten years down the road. They can get this done, if they want to. Clearly, they do not. And their wishy-washy non-committal bullshit only furthers twists the knife.

For far too long, the AFL has treated Tasmania like a wallet; tossing it the scraps no one in Melbourne wants and expecting to be thanked for the privilege.

If this is the path they want to keep treading, then to be blunt, they can get fucked.

Close the chequebook, send them away, piss off, thanks for nothing. We’re a basketball state now. Go Jack Jumpers.

Image: Getty Images / Michael Wilson