ONE OF

Inside Sport - - EDITOR'S LETTER - Jeff Cen­ten­era Edi­tor

my sport­ing ven­tures this month was to the Brazil-Ar­gentina foot­ball match at the MCG. I was among the 95,000 drawn out by Leo Messi and com­pany, but re­ally I was pulled along by my ten-year-old nephew, who has the kind of un­sul­lied en­thu­si­asm for the sport you only ever have when you are ten years old.

He has a re­mark­ably deep knowl­edge of a foot­ball played on the other side of the planet, thanks in large part to the FIFA video game. As he talked non-stop about the rel­a­tive qual­i­ties of Ar­gentina’s re­serve for­wards – In­ter’s Mauro Icardi is a favourite – it started me think­ing about how dif­fer­ent his evo­lu­tion as a sports fan was to mine.

At his age, I had an equiv­a­lent pas­sion for bas­ket­ball. I sub­sisted on the lo­cal NBL and the one-hour high­lights of the NBA that Don Lane de­liv­ered in the ’80s and ’90s. By con­trast, my nephew has the world of foot­ball at the touch of an app, es­chews the A-League en­tirely (he could only name three teams when I pop-quizzed him) and barely watches tele­vi­sion, or en­tire matches, at all.

There were a lot of kids at the MCG that night, and if they’re any­thing like my nephew, we’ve got a gen­er­a­tional co­hort that will come to their fan­dom in a very dif­fer­ent way. They won’t be con­strained by the fact of where they live, or even how long the game goes for. They’ll fol­low the way they want to, and it will be sport that has to catch up.

This thought weighed heav­ily as events played out on and off the field this past month. Aus­tralian sport is try­ing to sit­u­ate it­self in the big, wide world, and it’s a fac­tor that un­der­lies the current hag­gling go­ing on in our big leagues. Cricket is the most pointed ex­am­ple, a divi­sion be­tween of­fi­cials grasp­ing to keep con­trol and play­ers who now have fi­nan­cial prospects that the sport tra­di­tion­ally didn’t give them.

Even the through-line of this edi­tion tells the story: Joe Daniher signs a three-year $2m deal, al­most an ex­cla­ma­tion point on the AFL’s new pay agree­ment with its play­ers. NRL star Valen­tine Holmes made his own cel­e­brated re-sign­ing ear­lier in the sea­son, but not be­fore a dal­liance with the NFL – be­com­ing near a standard move for rugby types these days. And Aaron Mooy, mak­ing less than half of his league and AFL equiv­a­lents in the A-League two years ago, re­cently earned a trans­fer value head­ing to the English Premier League that could fill an en­tire club’s salary cap for a year.

We ex­pect world-class per­for­mance in our sport, even when we can’t pay at a world­class level. With Aussie ath­letes con­tin­u­ing to fan out over the planet, and Aussie fan in­ter­est fol­low­ing suit, the con­trast be­tween the lo­cal and global be­comes more pro­found. What does a fu­ture two-tier (dare we call it two-speed?) Aus­tralian sport look like? Or to para­phrase the old Gersh­win line: how do you keep ’em at the G once they’ve seen Messi?

We ex­pect world-class per­for­mance in our sport, even when we can’t pay at a world­class level.

The new king of the kids, at the MCG of all places ...

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