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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
AFL, NRL get tough over soccer World Cup

A turf war is set to erupt in Australian sport with the two biggest football codes unwilling to accept Football Federation Australia's requirements to host a soccer World Cup.

The FFA are bidding to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups but to do so it would require exclusive access to 12 of Australia's largest stadia for up to 10 weeks.

But both the AFL and NRL are refusing to step aside completely and claim they cannot run their competitions under the current proposals.

The AFL are refusing to relinquish their rights to Etihad Stadium, while the NRL are concerned not only at their loss of stadia around the country but the major disruption to their representative schedule and the free kick they'd deliver a rival code in the battle for fans.

NRL chief executive David Gallop will meet FFA officials on Friday but said under the current proposal it would be impossible to run a rugby league season around the World Cup's demands.

"Some of the proposals are not going to be palatable to us and would be very costly to us," said Gallop.

"We're not trying to stop the World Cup bid but we are certainly concerned about the impact that it will have on our season, our fans and the financial position of our clubs."

AFL boss Andrew Demetriou said the AFL accepted that they would not have access to the 100,000-capacity MCG for up to 10 weeks if Australia won the right next year to host either of the World Cups.

But he declared Melbourne's other major venue, Etihad Stadium, off-limits to the FFA.

World soccer's governing body FIFA requires bidding nations to have 12 venues with a minimum capacity of 40,000.

The new rectangular stadium in Melbourne was initially planned as Melbourne's second World Cup venue along with the MCG, before its capacity was capped at 31,000 and it became clear that the prospect of enlarging it was prohibitively expensive.

"In order for our season to be able to work and accommodate our stakeholders, we need to start planning and to have a season that runs concurrently with the World Cup," Demetriou told Radio 2UE on Wednesday.

"Of course we would avoid things like finals because it doesn't make any sense to go up against a final.

"... We would make the MCG available for 10 weeks, which is ours under our agreement, but we need Etihad Stadium to be able to conduct our season.

"If we haven't got Etihad Stadium and the MCG, we can't run a season."

Demetriou and FFA CEO Ben Buckley are close friends and former AFL teammates with North Melbourne.

They also worked together at the AFL before Buckley moved to the top job at soccer's national governing body.

But Demetriou chided the FFA for failing to keep Australia's other football codes in the loop regarding the World Cup bidding process and said it was "disrespectful" to the AFL for them to continue promoting Etihad Stadium as a World Cup venue.

"They certainly have to improve their communication, not just with us but other people involved in and being affected by a World Cup," he said.

"I think a World Cup is a great thing for this country (but) it's time to get this stuff organised.

"They really need to be proactive and come up with solutions and start listening to the other codes and other people affected by this, particularly the venues, and not do all the talking."

Gallop said he would be open to financial compensation if the NRL is to make concessions to help a rival code.

"It's not something that's been discussed thus far but if that was part of the discussions then we'd be interested to hear what they've got to say," he said.

"It's obviously a big shot in the arm for a competitor and we're running a business and we have to be mindful of that.

"Clearly a soccer World Cup is going to be a big shot in the arm for their game, not only in the period that it's on but in the years that follow."




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