Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I have no gift to bring...

It's Christmas time. The most wonderful time of the year. That might not always be true all the time for people. But to remember and celebrate Jesus' birth every year is a wonderful thing. I have reflected on what this means many times, and some of the most special times that God has spoken to me have actually been at Christmas.

What does it mean that Jesus was incarnate amongst us? Obviously this is a big question, and I'm not going to tackle this one much today, except to say that it is the biggest gift ever given. For Jesus to leave his glory behind in heaven was a huge gift. For him to lay down his life later on was an indescribable gift.

I heard a message at a Christmas Eve service today. The preacher picked up on the theme of the modern carol "The Little Drummer Boy."

(I'll leave most of the pa rum pum pums out).

Come they told me, a new born King to see,
Our finest gifts we bring, to lay before the King,
So to honor him when we come

Little baby, I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring, that's fit to give the King
Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded, the ox and lamb kept time,
I played my drum for him,
I played my best for him,
Then he smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

I must confess I have always loved this song, partly because it lends itself to many great variations from a multitude of musicians, but most of all because of its quintessential simplicity. I have no gift to bring..... I played my best for him.

So the question comes to me. What do I have to give my King Jesus as a gift, this Christmas time, every Christmas time? I could come up with a simple answer and say, I will give him my life. And yes, this is what I want to do. I also know that it is a gift that pleases God. But I also know that my life is full of rubbish. I'm a sinner. I make so many mistakes. I do want to make a difference. I do want Siberian peoples to know about Jesus and I sincerely hope that I play my part in that cause.

Let me go back many years. For a long time I have known that I wanted to go to Siberia, since I was 15. The journey took many twists and turns, and is even still continuing. When I was 21 I took my first trip outside of the country on a short term mission to South Africa. We actually arrived the day before Christmas. The few days after Christmas there was virtually nothing for us to do. Here I was, young, passionate and intense, going on a mission trip as part of the path of obedience to God. When I got to the start of that mission trip I was all keyed up to get out there and share the gospel. Everything fell flat on its face and I was trapped on this compound with my hands metaphorically tied. It felt so dark, black and lonely. At that stage of my life that mission trip was a litmus test for me. A test to see if I would serve God with my life as a missionary. It felt hopeless, and impossible. I didn't know where things were going. In that moment things felt the darkest they had ever in my life. But in that moment I cried out to God. I told him that yes I wanted to serve him. I wanted to give him my gift. I told him that I would reapply with my resume for the job- and confessed that all I could offer him was a blank piece of paper. "But I'll apply anyway Lord, this is all I have to offer..... nothing.... myself."

Then he smiled at me. Yes, he would receive this gift.

As I reflect on this now, I once again realise, that as far as I have come in the Siberian journey it is only because God has taken me that far in the journey. The times when I have seen him work the most have been the times when I was simply in the right place at the right time and was obedient. I was the blank page on those occasions and God filled in all of the gap.

I want to give him my life again. I want to give him a special gift this Christmas time. I won't pretend to offer a page of my own, but I will offer up the page that he has been writing on and ask of my Lord that he would complete this good work he has begun in me. I'm still a sinner and I still make lots of mistakes. But I'll play my best for Christ.

And he smiles at me.....

May he smile at you too this Christmas time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Societal sin- let's forgive Ben Cousins

On many occasions I have felt that Australian society is extremely lacking in grace. It has become legalistic and condemnatory. Perhaps I am just noticing more the things that have always been here, and just see them as I come back to the country.

Every time I return to Australia, one of the things that bugs me the most is the campaign to cut down the road toll. This campaign has been going on for many years now. Somehow the police and the government are convinced that they will cut out road deaths altogether. The latest campaign particularly bugs me, "We'll catch you before someone gets hurt!" Who are these police, do they think they are God, that they can somehow stop every speeding motorist out there? Either this message implies that they will actually catch all of the dangerous drivers, or that every driver who speeds a little is actually dangerous.

The current speed limit on the Monash Freeway is 80 km/h. This is because the lanes are narrower due to roadworks. I do my best to stick to the speed limit while 90% of the traffic zips past me at 90 or 100. I find it awfully frustrating, and remark to myself how hypocritical the police are that they are allowing thousands of murderers to stay on the road. (Murderers from their own implication that is.) In reality most of these drivers are not causing much risk.

The other day we were behind a police car that pulled a car over. We were sticking at the speed limit of 60 km/h. It appeared that the police car was too, and the car in front. The driver did not appear to be speeding, but was likely driving at the criminal speed of 63 km/h. The police pulled the driver over, and likely brought in more revenue (which I am sure is their real bottom line). This fits with their policy of fining all drivers who drive 3 or more kilometres over the speed limit. I sure feel safe, now that they caught that maniac before he hurt someone.

For all their pride, there is nothing that the police can do to catch the really dangerous drivers. At least one recent tragedy had the driver doing speeds of above 170 km/h. No amount of threatening billboards or speed cameras were going to catch that driver, who actually did become a murderer. Patrol cars can do some good in stopping serious speeders and taking away their licenses, but perhaps that may still not stop some.

All this to point out that condemning the public when they drive a few clicks over is an adverse form of legalism and is not helping the situation at all.

Speeding is now officially a societal SIN.

But really it is not the fault of the police. Society actually wants these strict measures. On at least a few occasions I have spoken to people who defend the drachonian measures in Australian society today. Let's move on to another of my pet peaves, the ostracism of smokers in our society. A recent news report boasted that the Quit campaign over the last two plus decades has seen the reduction in Australian smokers from 33% to 19% of the population. This campaign has been going on for over two decades now. So in many ways that reduction is not a very good victory. If the campaign was going to succeed there would be no smokers left in society. Even though the percentage has been decreased, the actual number of smokers has not been dented that much, as the population of Australia has risen from 14 million to 21 million in that time.

Smokers are seen as the number one evil in Australian society. They are a drain on the health system, or so we are told. But how much money has been spent on the Quit campaign over the years? How much tax have the smokers paid over the years themselves? I'd love to see a study done on the money involved. It would be my guess that when a smoker needs an operation for lung cancer, that they have more than paid for it with their taxes by the time they arrive in the hospital.

This approach from government has seen the policy extended to the furthest reaches of society. Smokers can no longer find a pub or club to hang out in. There is no such thing as social smoking any more. Office workers are condemned to hide underground in some dark and damp corner of a car park, they are not even allowed to smoke out the front of the office building because it would make the company look dirty.

This is not to say that smoking is smart or healthy. But it seriously irritates me to see that condemnation handed down upon smokers.

Smoking is no longer just a societal SIN, it is now also a social SIN.

Let's take the fight to Ben Cousins. Ben Cousins has been on a long and difficult journey in his battle with narcotic drugs. I'm not making excuses for his decisions, but I do have compassion for him. I am very happy for him that he has been drafted by the Richmond footy club. I'm happy for a few reasons. I think it's great that he has a second chance. The testing regime that he will be under will help him stay accountable, and give him the best chance to turn his life around. I am impressed that Richmond took him when no other club would. As a Richmond supporter I am proud of my club for going against the flow. Fourteen of the fifteen other clubs opposed Richmond's moves to draft Ben Cousins. I hope God blesses Richmond for showing compassion where no one else would. (Of course the cynic in me says, that Richmond was just taking their typical approach of selecting a proven player instead of youth. I hope that's not the case, and I don't think it is here.)

The media doesn't like a good news story. The same day that Ben Cousins trained with Richmond for the first time, the media were on his case because he has had past associations with an underworld figure who has recently been arrested. The media doesn't want to give him a second chance. I fear that much of society does not either, as indicated by 14 of 16 AFL clubs.

Jesus had some challenging things to say about sin and it's affects on us. He told people that when they judge others they should first examine themselves. He is quoted as saying, "Before you remove the speck from someone else's eye, remove the plank from your own." All of society should examine themselves a little more, instead of taking such "self righteous" attitudes with speeding drivers, smokers and failed AFL footballers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Am I a thief or a good shepherd?

When we were living in Siberia, a friend pointed out that it is important when preaching the gospel to an indigenous people to go through the "door" instead of a window. This basically means that it is essential to learn the culture and the language of the people and to find the cultural keys.

Then today I came across these words from Jesus, "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber." It occurred to me that many people who do not respect the culture of the people they are trying to reach actually are thieves in the eyes of the receiving culture. It is often the complaint of Siberian people that they are not interested in Jesus because he is the "Russian god." Anyone who comes preaching Jesus to them without respecting their culture and taking the time to understand them is most definitely seen as a thief. I certainly don't want to be a thief.

Jesus goes on to say, "they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice". It's pretty plain to see that time is needed for people to learn the voice of the messenger. When the voice is heard, understood and trusted then this is a like the shepherd entering in through the gate.

I hope you will take the time to be a friendly shepherd rather than a thief when sharing the gospel with people.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shaking the world view

Over the last couple years I have been learning in practice, what I knew in theory. That is that for people to receive the gospel their word view needs to be shaken. I particularly enjoyed the argument of people from One Story, that it is within the imagination of a story that people's world views are challenged. In fact the very same thing happened for C.S Lewis. In his biography he retells how it was in the realm of imagination and stories that he allowed himself to imagine that God was real.

I have recently been sharing with people an experience from Tuva where people we spent time with there had their world view challenged by our presence and the ensuing battle between angels and demons camped about our tent when we camped together with them. They fully expected to face punishment from the evil spirits after we upset the balance. When they did not face the repercussions of the evil spirits it challenged their world view.

If this is what is necessary to challenge people with the gospel in non western cultures, shouldn't it also be necessary in western cultures? To challenge a western thinker with the gospel of Jesus, the dominant paradigm must first be tackled. What is the dominant paradigm of the western person? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. There are a few dominant paradigms. One of them is most definitely that of consumerism. It seems that our whole lives in the west revolve around what we consume, than what we produce. And it is not uncommon that people will go on shopping sprees for the sake of entertainment. This paradigm is centred in "what can I take?" instead of "what can I give?"

Churches have become consumeristic too. People spend time in church wanting to be entertained, to make friends, to feel good, i.e to receive. Where as the foremost reason we should go to church is to worship God.

So my task over the next 18 months, while I live in a western country will be to undermine the western world view of consumerism and perhaps other paradigms as well.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The spirituality of music

My writing of late has been a little scarce, I will try to get back into it again.

I have some seed thoughts about music. Simply put, the voice is the most basic and primitive form of music. It is when the voice is stretched and abnormal frequencies are made that the building blocks of music are created. I have no doubt that the most ancient and primitive forms of music were voice only. Rhythm would have followed next, followed by impromptu percussion. But already in the primitive growth of music, percussion and rhythm were accompaniment for singing.

Later on, many discoveries would have been made that created various frequencies, not unlike singing. I wonder then if early instrumentation was not then a mimicry of singing. The development of instrumentation is a means of embellishing the environment for the voice.

True, much music is now completely absent of voice altogether. But in many ways this music is searching for deep gutteral ways to articulate what words fall short of doing. Words can be mistakingly seen as synonymous with voice, but they merely overlap.

Instrumentation is a wonderful thing and I enjoy it. It enables a musician to express themself, in the security of the "other" without necessarily shining a spotlight on the soul. But I find the voice the most naked and vulnerable of musical expressions, one that can never be truly matched by a musical instrument.

The voice expresses the deepest yearnings of the soul. We all have a voice, and whether we admit it or not, we can all sing (even if we do not want others to hear us!). When we sing out loud we open our soul up to breathe and we can call out to the deep. When we direct our singing towards the Creator God, it can become the purest of prayers, especially if we don't know the words, but simply sing.

Give it a try, open your mouth and sing out loud to your Creator. He just might answer you.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Can Christians be demonically attacked or influenced?

This is a bit of a hot topic between various Christian circles. Some charismatic believers will tell you that a Christian can actually be demon possessed. Others will tell you that a believer can not possibly have a demon live within them because the Holy Spirit is already living within them. Often the verse "Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Cor 6:14) is cited as evidence of this. It is important when reading scripture to always take the whole passage into account. In full the scripture reads:

14Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[b]? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."[c]
17"Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you."[d]
18"I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

The scripture is exhorting the believing person to not marry the unbelieving person. This is the strictest sense of the meaning "to be yoked together". It is referring to sexual union, and is therefore an exhortation to not sleep with a temple prositute.

This does not necessarily mean that a believing person may not have been opened up to demonic influence in their life. In the old testament law in the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 5) the Lord teachers his followers to not worship idols and false gods. The consequences of such actions bring a curse upon someone's life. If this curse is not broken then it will carry on to the third and fourth generations (verse 9). The good news though, is that Jesus can break the curse and then his blessing carries on for a "thousand generations" (verse 10).

People who come from animist backgrounds have been highly exposed to demonic influences. An animist culture has much idol and demon worship. This opens individuals and families up to demonic influence and possession. The demons have actually been given permission into these peoples lives. This is known as spiritual bondage. It is these bondages that often keep people from coming to know the truth of Jesus. But even when people do come to believe in Jesus, there is much healing to go through. A person can make a choice to believe and invite the Holy Spirit into their life. But this does not mean that the demon will automatically leave a person's life. The demon needs to be told to leave, since it was first given permission. The Holy Spirit enters someone's life when given permission. In fact as the Holy Spirit is gentle, He will not force any deeper into a person's life than the permission given. The Holy Spirit will draw back when grieved. A demon on the other hand will cling on very tightly when first given any permission, a little like "given an inch, a mile is taken".

When a person gives their life to Jesus, they are then in a position to command demons to leave, in the name of Jesus. Before this step, they do not even have the power to tell a demon to leave. So a demon will not leave someone unless commanded to do so in Jesus name. It may be possible to command a demon to leave a non-believer, but unless that person then believes, the demon will bring even more back.

Last year I met a Siberian pastor, from the Eveny people group. He came from an animist background and knows a lot of which he speaks, from personal experience. He is from a Baptist church. He has a lot of believers come to him for prayer to be set free from demons. Other Baptists disagree with him because it is not part of their doctrine. But this pastor has prayed with many believers for deliverance from demons within their life. The demons are commanded in the name of Jesus to leave the person's life. Their permission is revoked.

So it is possible that someone may have brought demons with them from their past life before they believed. But is it possible for a person who is already a believer to allow a demon into their life? Well not unwittingly, I would say. A person who is a believer has the Holy Spirit, and should be able to listen to the Holy Spirit, and therefore not partake in activities that are occultic, demonic etc. But sadly today there are so many noises in a person's life, that we rarely take the time to slow down and just listen to God. Therefore many believers do not know the voice of God very well, or choose not to listen when the Holy Spirit warns that something is sinful.

I recently became aware of a young girl, who is a believer but had been taking part in Zen Buddhist meditation. It was her misunderstanding, that Zen is not a religious practice. To know whether this is true or not it is necessary to understand what Zen meditation is. In a book called "Zen for Christians" the following is laid out:

"Zen for Christians does not mean Zen adapted for Christians in the way that yoga for pregancy means yoga adapted for pregnant women. The Zen in this book is just plain Zen, but the presentation of Zen in this book is especially for Christians..... Zen is a way of liberation from suffering- both the suffering we experience ourselves and the suffering we cause others. It is a practical and experiential tradition, centred in a form of meditation..."

"Zen is a way of selflessness, in two senses of the word. First, Zen is a way of directly experiencing what Buddhism calls "no-self" - realizing the distinction between "me" and "not me" ..."

It is clear that Zen meditation is simply not a "non-religious" practice. The idea behind Zen meditation is for the meditator to "empty" themself of all consciousness, to become aware that they are really nothing. The goal is to reunite with the universal consciousness, to reach enlightenment or "nirvana" as the Buddha (Suddarthu Gautuma- a mere man) supposedly did. The goal of Zen is to detach oneself from suffering. However Jesus teaches us to go through suffering. And we are made in God's image. Therefore Christian meditation is to realise that we are made in God's image. Zen meditation is the opposite of this. In deed in a person's involvement in Zen meditation they are opening themself up to demonic influence, giving a demon permission in their life. It is my clear hope and prayer that this girl will seek prayer deliverance ministry after opening herself up in such a way. If she does not, she will face much trouble in life.

At the start of Jesus' ministry he went around all of the Galilean countryside casting demons out from peoples' lives. He was preparing the ground for the word to be preached later on. Demons produce barriers to people listening to the gospel. In any place of ministry demons need to be bound and cast out before any real success will follow. Is it any wonder that many churches in the west do not grow, when we allow so many demonic influences into our midst?

Jesus would rather that we were hot or cold, but not lukewarm in our love for him. It is when we are lukewarm that we compromise and allow lies into our midst. Let's find a passion for Jesus and for holiness, cast out the demons from our midst and invite the Holy Spirit to minister in our communities.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who is the evil empire?

I feel compelled to comment on the current conflict that has been occurring within the Caucasus. The media have the wool pulled over our eyes. They want us to believe that the USA, EU and NATO are wonderful benevolent forces that are above approach.

Let me postulate a few ideas for you:

1) The US and OPEC countries formed an agreement in the 1960s that led to all oil being traded in US dollars. This has led to unprecedented wealth for the US and for the major oil producing countries.
2) Iraq was the first country to threaten to break from this agreement. Aside from America's many reasons for going to war in Iraq, no one can dispute that oil was a part of the equation. If Iraq broke from the agreement and did not trade in US dollars it may have started a chain that would see the collapse of the US economy. Iraq was suggesting they would trade in Euros instead, a point which put France and Germany against the military actions of the US. Interestingly, USA's biggest ally, Britain does not have the Euro.
3) Iran are a large oil producing country, they are also considering breaking from the 1960s agreement.
4) The US would love to have a strategic and secure military base in Georgia, which would put them on Iran's doorstep.
5) Georgia has been enemies of the Abkhazians and Ossetians long before the Russian empire.
6) The conflict is really two empires rubbing up against each other.

South Ossetia have a legitimate claim to independence, just as much as Kosovo does. They voted for their independence in 2006. They have operated as a de facto country since 2006, with the protection of Russian peacekeepers. Georgia attacked South Ossetia first in an attempt to gain "territorial integrity" to secure their bid to join NATO and ultimately the EU.

Anyway, please have a look at the videos and read the article and have an open mind.

Western media use pictures to tell lies.
Twelve year old girl tells the truth about Georgia.
Well reasoned historical explanation about Georgia and why they are guilty.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When was the world created?

The Mayans believed that the world was created on August 11th, 3114 B.C. Were they close?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What is the biggest cause of death in the world today?

Just recently I stumbled upon a really cool little website when searching for a world clock. It's choc full of statistics, and numbers are something I can really relate to. The website has different categories, one of them caught my eye.

The world death count (causes of death).

What are some of the biggest causes of death in the media today?

Traffic accidents are certainly talked about a lot. A lot of money is poured into making us feel guilty for going 5 kms over the speed limit. Death count in 2008 to date: 695 290

Of course cancer is also a big cause of death, and God forbid that you are brave enough to stick a cigarette in your mouth in public these days, you just might get lynched. Death count in 2008: 4 242 159

What of HIV-AIDS? A cause of death that affects Africa in a big way and is largely and sadly quite unnecessary. Death count: 1 810 070.

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest commonly recognised cause of death in the world. A percentage of this statistic is also filled by people who die of old age. Death count: 9 764 500 and counting.

What of war? Surely it ravages so many lives. (And by the way I know that it does, and living refugees are huge victims of war.)
Death count: 99 972 (Much smaller than traffic accidents.)

But there is one cause of death that dwarfs all these statistics, in fact it is a higher cause of death than all the above combined. Abortion so far in 2008 has killed 22 million, 652 thousand and counting, very rapidly. Abortion is the hidden killer, we hear very little about it in the media. The figure in Australia every year is about 100 000. It is a staggering statistic to know that abortion kills SO much more lives than any other cause.

I'm not an abortion activist. I am motivated by lives staring me in the face, that hopefully when changed will shun such evil. Prevention after all is better than cure. But these figures are just evil. I challenge anyone out there to tell me how such greedy massacre is at all acceptable.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A ranch on Mars

So it looks like I may have left my sports research phase behind me. (Time will tell). I spent a lot of time researching the history of football codes, and then I discovered a sports opinion blog called The Roar. I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time writing comments and articles at that blog, and my own blogging slowed down a bit as a result. In the end I got a bit ticked off by some of the people who continued to claim that soccer is the best sport, and as such were not a lot of fun to debate with. It started to feel like the debates were going around in circles. So, it's time to spend my brain space on other things.

A friend may have just rescued me from my football induced stupor when he asked me if I had heard about the Phoenix probe that has just landed on Mars. I had heard of it, but I nearly ignored it, which is so unlike me.

I still have lots of reading to do to catch up on the goals of the probe. Exploration of Mars fascinates me, because I see it as part of God's plan and gift of the universe to us. Imagine if sin had never entered the world. Imagine where we would be today. No wars, no death. Technology would have advanced far into space by now. Nevertheless, this does mot mean that the wonders of space are not for us now.

I like to think that Mars and the other planets are there for us to use as resources. There is bound to be a lot of mineral wealth in space, say for instance in the asteroid belt, which is between Mars and Jupiter.

The Phoenix probe landed on Mars on May 25th. It landed near one of the poles to search for ice. The purpose of the project is to research the history of water on Mars, to get an idea of climate change there and whether life may have possibly existed there.

The probe landed in a very specific spot, which is quite amazing in itself. The level of science needed to send this probe is staggering. The probe is digging into the Martian soil. Information is being sent back to earth via the martian satellites which then beam messages to earth's sattelites.

Such sophisiticated technology leads me to imagine future possiblities. The temperatures by the poles can get as low as -80 C over night, which is a little too cold for human habitation. Temperatures at the equator however can get up to +27 C. So human habitation would be possible by the equator but not by the poles. (At least in the early stages). Robots however could travel to the poles and even build roads to the poles to mine water. In fact much of this could even happen before humans ever set foot on Mars. Indeed the fact that two satellites already orbit Mars and send communications back to earth are actually the beginnings of human infrastructure on Mars.

It may still be a generation or two before humans set up a colony on Mars. I guess we need to set up a colony on the moon first to make this possible.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Australia needs to clean up before hosting more major sporting events

There would be few in Australia who would argue today that it was not a wonderful thing for Sydney to host the Olympic games in 2000. I attended some events in Sydney and was there enjoying the atmosphere with hundreds of thousands of other Australians and also international people. I had the pleasure of having my photo taken with a gold medalist. I was there in the main Olympic stadium cheering on our athletes towards the prize of a medal. I was there in Darling Harbour with 5 000 others watching Cathy Freeman win the 400m gold, and in tears knew that this was a great moment for reconciliation between Indigenous and European Australia.

But still there were some noises from the international media about Australia having human rights issues, because of the conditions that many indigenous Australians live in. Some sports followers despise the connection of politics with sport. But to be a sports lover and to ignore politics is wrong. We can not enjoy ourselves while our brothers and sisters are suffering around us.

Once again, in an Olympic year the issue of human rights has hit the headlines again. Chinese oppression of Tibetan monks and freedom protesters in Tibet has caused a lot of controversy around the world. Olympic torch relays have been interrupted. People have debated about whether protesters should have interrupted the torch relays. Mean while, China has mostly deflected the international criticism and told the world to stay out of their internal matters. Effectively, we the international community have been told to "mind our own business."

Many in Australia have joined the protest call for Tibetans to be given their democratic rights and choose their own path in the world. This point of view is the overwhelmingly correct political path to take. I also agree with this point of view. But how is it, that we in Australia also managed to deflect much of the international criticism handed our way during the Sydney Olympics? Now it appears that the world doesn't bother us too much, and we are allowed to go our own way, for better or worse.

I along with millions of Australians shed tears on February 13th when the Federal government apologised to the stolen generations of indigenous Australians. It was an important and long overdue step for our nation, and many Aboriginal people were grateful for the apology and step taken. May 13th followed February 13th with a $718.7 million budget pledge to "Close the Gap" between the quality of life for indigenous Australians and European Australians. The government deserve a chance to get it right and implement their policies. But it has to be said, that quality of life for indigenous Australians has to be among our highest priorities in Australia.

We love and adore our sport in Australia. We love nothing more than seeing an international team perform well. We love nothing more than hosting a major international tournament. But what happens, the next time we host a major international sports tournament such as a Football World Cup and the life expectancy of indigenous Australians is still 17 years less than the rest of the population? The rest of the world will look on Australia again and call to attention our human rights problems. Am I being pessimistic to say that the situation will not have improved by then? Time will tell, but money thrown at a problem does not usually solve it.

We can spend tax dollars on earning major international sporting events, but when we host them, is our country really worth showing off to the world? I argue that we need to earn the right to host these major tournaments. As a country we need to sort out our own problems before we start boasting to the rest of the world that our country is in order.

We owe it to the the original and continual custodians of Gondwana land. The Great South Land can still be as great as the one it could have been.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rugby season opener

While watching the sports channel the other night I saw an ad for the Russian Rugby Championship. I had previously wanted to get to a game, but the stadium looked hard to get to. Last night's game was at the Lokomotiv Stadium downtown. The stadium has a capacity of 4000 and sits on one side of the field. Going to a Rugby game is the closest I will get to Aussie Rules in Russia.

The game was scheduled to start at 18:30, but the marching band were still strutting their stuff at 18:35.

The weather has been warm and in the 20s for over a week now. But it turned cool yesterday, 17 degrees with patches of rain. Some die hard rugby fans turned out in the rain. There were 1300 at the match.

The two teams were lined up by 18:40. The team on the left is Yenisey (a Krasnoyarsk based team). They have just turned professional this year. It's a bit of an anomaly because most of the other teams are not professional. The team on the right is Krasny Yar (also a Krasnoyarsk based team). Krasny Yar won nearly every championship in the 90s, but they are still an amateur team. There are 6 teams in the Premier Rugby League in Siberia (4 of them are from Krasnoyarsk), and a further 8 in European Russia. After the national anthem, the game got underway at about 18:45.

I asked some people in the crowd who the stronger team were. Apparently Yenisey. So in true Aussie form I decided to barrack for the underdog Krasny Yar. I had no idea just how much an underdog they were. From very early on Yenisey dominated the play. I cheered away for Krasny Yar, and to my amusement the majority of people were supporting Yenisey. There was a group at the back cheering for Krasny Yar though. I had fun stirring the group of kids in front of me that insisted Yenisey are the team to go for. (It seems cheering for the under dog is not the Russian thing to do.)

Yenisey just seemed to move a lot faster than Krasny Yar did, and so it seemed as if they had more players on the field. They were able to cover the gaps better.

By half time the score was 24-0 in Yenisey's favour. Krasny Yar barely even looked like scoring, although they were trying very hard to stop Yenisey.

The Yenisey players were also a lot bigger. It seems that turning professional, they have been able to take all of the best players, at least the best from Krasnoyarsk anyway.

Our American friends were intrigued by the differences to American Football. I couldn't explain all of the rule differences, just the major ones, as I don't know the game of Rugby well enough.

Yenisey are about to score another try. The style of play of both sides almost completely ignored shots on field goals. Even at 24-0 when Krasny Yar could have taken an easy shot on goal, they decided to push forward for a try and failed to score. In the end Krasny Yar did score. The final score was 33-5 in Yenisey's favour. Last week Krasny Yar defeated Sibir 61-8, so I don't think that this will be a very competitive season. Sibir and Siberian Federal University may be more well matched but a long way behind the competition. There simply aren't enough teams for another division. But perhaps some more sponsors will get on board and all of the teams can turn professional, if so maybe the talent will be spread around more evenly.

In Aussie Rules we feel cheer leaders are unnecessary, but Abigail seemed to enjoy them, when the ball was at the other end of the field. If the ball came close Abigail would get excited and comment on kicks etc.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Footy in Russia

Spring is settling in at last, and that means more opportunity to get outside and play some sport. Today is a public holiday (Victory Day) in Russia, so I was hopeful to have a game of some kind with the local kids. I packed my bag with my footy, baseball bat and tennis ball and headed over to the local sports ground. The baseball bat was for a game of Lapta (the kids have just been using sticks), if that were to happen.

When I arrived, there were four kids taking shots on goal with one of the two local forms of football. I wasn't going to rain on their parade, so I quite shamelessly started kicking and bouncing the ball around at the other end of the field (not full size). After a little while, one of my friends, Rustam was coming by and he joined in kicking with me. We have had a kick once before. Rustam enjoys kicking the footy a lot, and it was very therapeutic for me to get a chance to have a kick, especially after the long Winter.

With the two of us now playing, this attracted more attention from the local kids as we were able to kick the ball further and higher. I could see that some of the kids were interested so I sent them some kicks. It proved a little difficult for a couple of the boys and they just tried a couple of times, watched some more and played soccer again. One of the boys, Vlad was really keen to join in. He had great ball handling skills. We got talking, and it turns out that he plays in a Rugby team. There are five professional Rugby teams in Krasnoyarsk, and according to Vlad, lots of junior clubs. This kind of suggests to me, that Aussie Rules has the best chance of take up in the world, where ever Rugby is played, as the ball was not a problem for him what so ever. Vlad asked me if he could do a Rugby pass in Australian Football. I explained that Aussie Rules is a cousin of Rugby's and taught him the hand pass. He had no problem picking this up either. It was all a bit of good fun. For an Aussie Rules club to be formed anywhere in the world, it helps to have enough expats to start the thing off, so I can't ever really see that happening where I live. But a kick to kick is good enough for me. As we finished up for the day, the kids asked me when we were going to play cricket. Hopefully tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Indian Premier League- opens the door for non test cricket nations

I have to admit that I have not been following the IPL closely. I was impressed to see the highlights of Brendan Mc Cullum's opening innings and then also impressed to see that Gilly set a new world record for the fastest century (42 balls). I was then amused to see Harbhajan Singh suspended at last. But it's a little hard to follow the comp from Siberia. Obviously I don't have any coverage at all, although I can watch you tube highlights if I want.

Apparently the tv coverage in Australia is rather poor, with very few games shown live, and no highlights being shown. This would also make it hard to follow. The other part that makes it hard to follow is that I can not identify with any of the franchises. I don't even know who any of the stars are playing for. I did look this up, but then promptly forgot within a few minutes. The names of the teams meant nothing to me. All this to say, that it definitely appears to be a competition for the Indians.

This leads me to a couple of points. Firstly, Australia and England need their own Premier/ Super leagues. As fans we need something we can relate to. But, secondly, does this mean that India really will control cricket in the future? If the rest of the world decides they don't really want to watch the IPL, it won't make a lot of difference to India. The baulk of the tv money comes from India anyway. They don't need us. Do we need them? Probably. We need to stay on their good side, so we can still have access to our players for test matches and world cups.

Nevertheless, the mass of money in Indian cricket still has a positive spin. Ireland and Kenya have had a hard time breaking through the glass ceiling into test cricket. (The ICC will only allow them in when they deem fit.) Their players are not able to devote all of their time to cricket, as they have to work regular jobs. This prevents them from lifting their game to the next level. If players from Ireland, Kenya, Canada, Scotland etc, get contracts to play in the IPL for even $50 000 or $100 000 a tournament, then they will be able to quit their regular jobs and devote the entire year to cricket. This would enable these countries to become test nations. This in turn would enlargen the world of professional cricket.

Many are now arguing that Twenty 20 spells the death of test cricket. These same arguments were put forward 30 years ago at the start of World Series Cricket. Fifty overs cricket has actually helped test cricket, firstly by bringing in finances, but also by improving the standard of play. Run rates have improved a lot in test cricket. It is also argued that Twenty 20 will just become a slogging fest, and the bowlers unimportant. There is some reality that cricket has always been slanted in favour of batsmen, but Twenty 20 will force bowlers to become even tighter. Line and length is always important. The right length on off stump is always difficult and risky to play. A yorker is impossible to hit for 6. So, the onus is on the bowlers to not bowl loosely. The intenisty of play will improve the quality of test cricket. The only game under threat is 50 overs cricket. It is the game that has suffered a loss in crowds in recent years, not test cricket.

I'm looking forward to the test series against West Indies where I will recognise Aussie players and the team.

The revolution in cricket may scare some people, but there are many positives.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A solution to the AFL's fixturing problems (Australian Football.)

Recently the AFL players association came up with a proposed solution to fixturing problems in the AFL. For the uninitiated, let me explain the problem. For a long time the VFL (Victorian Football League) was a 12 team competition. This worked out as a neat 22 round season; 11 home games and 11 away games. With an additional 4 weeks for the finals this made 26 weeks, which is exactly half a year, allowing the other 6 months for cricket. The draw was fair and everyone was happy.
The first expansion with the relocation of the South Melbourne Swans to Sydney in 1982 did not affect the draw, although Sydney began to play their games on Sundays, and the tradition of 6 games on a Saturday was over. In 1987, the VFL added West Coast Eagles (Perth) and Brisbane Bears, to make a 14 team competition. This did have an effect on the draw. To avoid stretching the draw to 26 weeks some teams were only played once. (13 teams twice and 9 once.)
Further expansions happened in 1991 with the addition of the Adelaide Crows; Fremantle Dockers in 1994; Port Adelaide Power in 1997. The merger of Fitzroy and Brisbane played as the Brisbane Lions in 1997, so the competition never grew larger than 16 teams.
The AFL now plan to add two more teams to the competition; Gold Coast in 2011 and Western Sydney in 2012, which will create an 18 team competition. The Players Association have complained that the current draw is already unfair. Some of the higher ranked teams end up playing lower ranked teams twice in the season, and effectively get a free win. The proposed solution from the Players Association is a 17 round competition, where each of the 18 teams play each other once. This is not realistic though, as the AFL will never agree to this. The AFL would be giving up TV revenue when the next contract is due.
There has been debate over the years about splitting the AFL into a two conference fixture. Many are against this, as the Melbourne teams (still 10) would have to be split in half and would play each other less often.
The simplest of solutions would be to recognise the inequality of the current draw and seek to rectify the problem. A win is currently worth 4 points, and a draw is worth 2 points. The solution could be to award only 2 points for a win to games against teams that are played twice in a season. This would mean such games are not "free kicks" to the top ranked teams.
A conference system could still work and is worth considering:

Western Conference:
West Coast
Port Adelaide
Western Bulldogs
North Melbourne

Eastern Conference:
St Kilda
Western Sydney
Gold Coast

In a conference system each team from the opposite conference would be played once, (9 games). A further 8 games against each team in the same conference would make 17 games. This would leave 5 to make up the 22 traditional rounds. The 5 additional games would be drawn randomly from the same conference, with the extra games only worth 2 points. It would be important to keep the conferences the same from year to year to keep the draw fair. Another step in keeping the draw fair would be take the top four teams from each conference to play in the finals series.

I appreciate that the Players Association would like to see equality in the draw. The above solution could see some equality. Discussions on the ABC "Offsiders" show recently suggested that if the AFL did not choose the proposed solution from the Players Association, that the AFL would not be interested in the quality of the game, but only in money. This is a little shortsighted of "Offsiders". They need to realise that the world of sport has changed for three decades now. Professional sport is about the money. The solutions to problems need to be found within the framework of profit making.

Indian Premier League: Harbhajan Singh suspended for 11 matches

Allow me to have my rant and rave. Harbhajan Singh wacks his "friend" in the face, and we are expected to believe he does not treat his enemies badly? And don't anyone try tell me that Harbhajan is cosy friends with the Aussies. The Aussies may be sledgers at times, but I find it insulting that Harbhajan claims he isn't one. Apparently Sreesanth is one of the worst sledgers and he "had it coming." I find it funny and poetic justice that Harbhajan was baited by Sreesanth and has now ended up with an eleven match ban. In the new world of hyper professional cricket, this is far more devastating than a test match ban would have been in Australia. Harbhajan will now miss out on $900 000 in match payments. Justice at last. He had it coming.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tasmania to get an AFL team?

Some further discussion of AFL representation in Tasmania is warranted. Tasmanian people have stated that they are not very interested in supporting a Melbourne team, playing in Tasmania. Experiments over the last number of years have seen teams like Fitzroy, St Kilda and Hawthorn play "home games" in Launceston. There could have been a small chance for Fitzroy to relocate to Tasmania, but the AFL were in favour of them merging with Brisbane. Admittedly that was a very successful move for all involved, and the Brisbane Lions have been a very successful team.

It remains to be seen how successful the new teams on the Gold Coast and Western Sydney will perform, or how good their supporter base will be. The AFL are prepared to put a lot of money into making their expansion endeavours successful. It seems the AFL were waiting more than a few years for a Victorian team to choose to relocate. It was obviously the AFL's preference. North Melbourne stubbornly resisted this, and that could be their demise in the end. North Melbourne supporters were making stupid decisions back in 1896 before the formation of the VFL. In an 1896 VFA game their supporters bashed the umpires and players after they were unhappy with the result. The VFL decided they did not want North Melbourne in 1897 when they formed. Now, North Melbourne supporters chose not to relocate to the Gold Coast, and will probably miss out on staying in the AFL too.

Hawthorn have enjoyed their relationship with Tasmania, so much so that when St Kilda pulled out of playing two games per season there, they increased their schedule to four games in Tasmania. The Tasmanian government have enjoyed this relationship too and have chosen to be Hawthorn's major sponsor. So their current corporate name is the "Tasmania Hawks." Tasmanian supporters however would like a team that they can truly call their own. If the Tasmanian government are serious about having an AFL team in Tasmania, then their best bet is to lure a Victorian team to move there. Hawthorn, may not be the club to do that, because they are financially strong now. Yet the management of Hawthorn is undoubtedly smart enough to do what is necessary for the long term survival of their club. It seems that there is a big enough niche for them to survive in Melbourne.

North Melbourne have already proven themselves too stupid to make a move, they flirted with the idea in Canberra, Sydney and the Gold Coast over many years. This leaves the three other candidates for a possible relocation as St Kilda, Footscray and Richmond. St Kilda may have shown their disinterest, may not be out of the running. The Tasmanian government need to put forward a deal to a Victorian club that will be more than attractive, that they would be stupid to stay in Melbourne, a deal that would guarantee their long term survival.

Basic mathematics would probably show that in a pro Aussie Rules state, it takes around 500 000 people as a demographic foundation to support a professional AFL team. Perth and Adelaide have a population of around 1 million each and they both have 2 AFL teams. They can probably not support any more than this in the next decade or two. Geelong do extremely well to support their team with a population of 350 000, but then it could be argued that regional south western Victoria make up the rest of the 500 000. This leaves Melbourne with a population of 3.5 million. At 500 000 people per team, Melbourne is probably capable of supporting 7 teams at strength. This means that 2 teams may not survive. Tasmania's population is 500 000 over all. The state is the smallest and people are prepared to drive a couple hours to watch an AFL match. Launceston is able to support 4 games a year at strength, but they may not be able to support 11 games a year. But if Launceston could support 4, they could possibly manage 5 or 6. Likewise Hobart, with a slightly larger population could support at least 4 games. Therefore, arguably Tasmania could easily support a minimum of 8 games a year if split between the two cities. They could possibly support 11 games.

If Tasmania is to lure a Victorian team to change their name officially to Tasmania, i.e the Tasmanian Hawks, Tigers, Devils, Saints or Bulldogs, then the team could play 8 home games in Tasmania, and perhaps 2 or 3 "home games" in Melbourne. This would please their Melbourne supporters and ensure that the team would not be too heavy a financial load for Tasmania. As Tasmania's population grows, they should eventually be able to host a full season of home games. Tasmania may not be able to convince the AFL to let the Devils advance to the 1st division, but they may be able to convince a Victorian team to relocate. The AFL will hardly be able to argue with that, if a Victorian club choose it of their own will. The final question remains, will any of the Victorian clubs be smart enough, or will they eventually disappear from the AFL altogether?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Malcolm Speed sacked from ICC- world split in cricket inevitable.

I haven't written anything about Zimbabwe in a while. This may seem strange considering their recent election. The truth is, I was holding out silent hope that Mugabe could actually be ousted this time. The weeks have gone by and he has not stood down yet, all the while more and more people continue to be arrested. It seems 165 000% inflation is not high enough, perhaps he is reaching for a cool million. What ever the story, Zimbabwe is fast turning into the biggest disaster on the planet. I am not sure of the number of deaths that have occurred there, but perhaps the figures should be compared with Rwanda, Sudan and Ethiopia, just a few of the African disasters of recent years. How long will the world stand idly by?

I had always thought Malcolm Speed was impotent in his role of Chief Executive of the ICC, in that he allowed Mugabe to continue to receive the money given to Zimbabwe cricket. Many Zimbabwe players, including black players like Henry Olonga left the team and country to protest the dictatorship of Mugabe. Now I read that Speed has been stood down from his job for finally standing upon principle and wanting Zimbabwe removed from world cricket (this is the only way to stop ICC money ending up in Mugabe's pockets). I still largely think Speed is impotent for not having spoken up sooner, but good on him for doing so at this point.

The British government have previously said that they will not allow a Zimbabwe touring side into England. This would effect next year's Twenty 20 world championship. The ICC have said that if Britain take this stance, the tournament will be moved. It is well known that political forces in South Africa and India do not want to punish Zimbabwe. This is misplaced vengeance against the former British Empire.

The ICC no longer represent all interests in cricket. The Twenty 20 championship next year will likely not be held in England. A recent comment I read from an English person supported the idea of preferring a Standford sponsored Twenty 20 premier league in England over the world championship. The rifts in world cricket are widening. A split is in the making. Eighty percent of Australia's current contracted players have lost faith in the ICC now. Personally I want the revolution to come. I want test cricket to survive. However, I think that Australia will always play England, West Indies and New Zealand in test matches.

Early history of Australian Rules Football, and the future expansion of the game

Australian Rules Football will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year on August 7th. This is actually an inaccurate reckoning of history. It is more accurate to place the origin of a code of football at the date of the codification of rules which was first done on May 17th, 1859.
Some historians like to argue that Australian football can be traced back to the Ballarat goldfields in 1853. There can be no doubt that games of football were played there, but these were likely of varying rules just as the many varied games played by public schools and clubs in England at the time. It has been argued that Gaelic Football had an influence on Australian football, and if this is true, the goldfields are certainly a place where this could have happened.
The only code of football that existed in 1853 was Rugby. Some schools and clubs played by Rugby rules and others had their own rules. Before a game of football the two teams would have to agree upon the rules of the game. Agreeing upon the rules was actually a tradition for a long time even after rules had been codified. Such traditions could allow for a New Zealand Rugby team to play some Australian Rules games when touring, or a Melbourne Aussie Rules team play Rugby rules against a Sydney club. So the various games of football played on the goldfields would likely have been played to varying rules.

(An Australian rules football match at the Richmond Paddock, Melbourne, in about 1866. The building in the background is the Melbourne Cricket Ground pavilion.)

Tom Wills is credited with being one of the original inventors of the rules to Australian Football. Tom Wills' life is an indicator of how important the game of Australian Rules is to our culture. He was the grandson of a convict, and as such his influence was denied in the early decades of the game. Wills was born near Gundagai, NSW 1835, but spent most of his childhood in the Ararat District of Victoria, moving there at the age of 4. He grew up with the Tjapwurrung people and even spoke their language. He knew the dances and games of the Tjapwurrung people. Although there is no direct evidence that he played the game of Marn Grook, it would be very likely. Wills was sent to the Rugby School in England at the age of 14 (1849) and returned to Australia in 1856 at the age of 21. By that stage in his life both the games of Marn Grook and Rugby were a big part of who Tom Wills was as a person.
Tom Wills also had an extensive cricket career, representing the colony of Victoria on numerous occasions. Great significance should be attached to the fact that Wills was the coach of the first Australian touring cricket team to England in 1868, which was made up of all indigenous players. Wills had a close relationship with many indigenous Australians and it is clear that his relationships were genuine. The stake holding of indigenous Australia in the game of Australian Football was high from the beginning and this can be seen today in high representation in the AFL. (2006 figures place the indigenous representation at 10% in the AFL, where as indigenous people in the general population are at 2%. See Traditional Recreation.)
Sadly, Wills later life ended in tragedy. His family moved to Queensland in 1861 and were massacred by a group of local indigenous people while Tom was away for a couple days. The perpetrators of the massacre had no idea who they were hurting, their vengeance poorly placed it only resulted in more pain and suffering. This tragedy caused Wills to turn to alcoholism and although he maintained good relationships, (the 1868 cricket tour was after the massacre), it took him on a path towards suicide in 1880 at the young age of 44. His contribution to Australian sport was none the less invaluable, and his efforts still provide today one of the strongest possibilities of reconciliation between European and Indigenous Australia.

(Aboriginal cricket team with Tom Wills at MCG in 1867.)

The AFL would like to celebrate the game between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College on August 7th, 21st and September 4th, 1858 as the first Australian Football Rules game. In reality it was a game with few rules, similar to many public schools in England, but with perhaps even less rules. Wills was one of the umpires in this game and it would have had some similarities to Rugby. The rules of the AFL game we know today were still under development.

The codification of the rules is the true birth of the game. Events prior to codification were simply formative and embryonic. The rules were drawn up at the Parade Hotel in East Melbourne by Wills, W. J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson and Thomas Smith on May 17th, 1859. These rules were established on behalf of the Melbourne Football Club, three days after its founding. The game was based heavily upon Rugby with some obvious influence from Marn Grook. Other creators of the rules had experience at Irish games, which also had some level of influence. The original Melbourne rules did not require the ball to be bounced. Geelong Football Club formed on July 18th, 1859. While they did not codify their rules as Melbourne FC did, they did play with a rule that the ball needed to be bounced every 20 yards. In 1866 agreement between clubs led to the Victorian Rules, which required the ball to be bounced.

The game spread to various parts of Australia at a fairly rapid pace. Adelaide formed a club in 1860 (now defunct), by 1877 the South Australian Football Association was formed, months before the Victorian Football Association. The game was played in Tasmania by 1864, Queensland 1866, New South Wales 1877, Western Australia 1881, Northern Territory 1916. While the game continued to be successful and grow in most parts of Australia it had greater competition from Rugby League and Union in Queensland and New South Wales.

The New South Wales Football Association was formed in 1880. A game was played against Victoria in 1881. The first recorded game in NSW was between Carlton Football Club and the Waratah Rugby Club in 1877. The Waratah club enjoyed the game so much that they switched codes in 1882. The NSW Football League was formed in 1903. By 1911 it was more popular than Rugby Union in Sydney. Rugby League was formed in 1908 in NSW. The NSWRL was denied access to many grounds by the NSWRU. The NSWFL graciously allowed the RL two weekends at the SCG in 1908. Rugby League performed very well infront of healthy crowds over those weekends and Australian Rules lost their impetus. As the Rugby League game was professional many players switched to that code. Professionalism was approved by the Australasian Football Council in 1911, for a limit of 30 shillings per game, but by that stage Rugby League had taken a big lead in Sydney. Australian Rules never caught up again. The game has always been popular in the Riverina region of southern NSW.

The history of Australian football in New Zealand is largely another unknown story. The game in New Zealand also had an early chance of success. The Christchurch Football Club played a game very similar to Melbourne Rules in 1863. Many men from the Australian colonies first came to the Otago region in the 1860s for a gold rush. There was another large migration of Australians to New Zealand in the 1890s, some of those men looking for work had played in the VFA and VFL. By 1882 there were 36 clubs in New Zealand, by 1901 there were 115 clubs in New Zealand. The game was so popular in New Zealand that they were a founding member of the Australasian Football Council in 1890. The name of the game was officially changed to Australasian Rules Football to reflect this change. The highpoint of New Zealand football was the Jubilee Carnival in Melbourne in 1908. New Zealand defeated NSW and QLD and finished fourth out of seven teams. World War 1 halted the development of the game in New Zealand. For what ever reason. many of the Australians who migrated to NZ in the 1890s returned to Australia after the war. Many of the NZ players of Australasian Football were killed in WW1. Australasian Football never really recovered in New Zealand and it died out by the 1930s. In 1927 when the Australasian Football Council met, there were no delegates from New Zealand, so it was voted to change the name to the Australian Football Council. (The council no longer exists. The game is now administered internationally by the AFL.) Australian Football was reestablished in New Zealand in the 1970s, and there are now three leagues in the country.

The New South Wales and New Zealand stories are interesting accounts of what could have been. AFL is a minor code of football in today's world. It is however a force to be reckoned with in Australia. It is now undisputedly the largest code of football in Australia based upon attendance figures. It is second to soccer in terms of participation, which is largely due to many parents feeling that soccer is a safer game for children. AFL games regularly attract more people than Rugby League games in Sydney and Brisbane.

The market for football codes is by no means fixed or saturated. Soccer and their A-League have had some real success in the last few years in Australia. While Rugby League may be expanding on the Gold Coast in Queensland, it is not growing as a game in Australia. It was greatly hurt by the Super League division of the 1990s. Rugby Union turning professional in 1995 has further eaten into the Rugby League market with the introduction of the Super 14 competition against New Zealand and South African teams. Soccer is AFL's biggest threat in Australia in the long term. The AFL still have a clear lead, but they can not afford to rest on their laurels. They are well aware of the situation, thus their current expansion plans for Gold Coast and western Sydney. The AFL plan to have a Gold Coast team in the league by 2011 and a Western Sydney team by 2012. These plans of expansion are wise and will keep the AFL on a strong course of growth, by taking in new markets.

The AFL's recent rejection of a Tasmanian government petition for a team seems harsh in some ways. The issue of debate is whether the AFL is an open market and if anyone should be allowed to compete. The AFL have no desire to stretch themselves too thin, They will need to inject a lot of capital in the early years to the 17th and 18th teams before they turn a profit independently. Tasmania have not lost their chance for an AFL team. Either they need to be prepared to wait longer until the new teams are established or they should continue to court a Victorian team. The Hawks have a good relationship in Tasmania, but may be unwilling to leave Hawthorn behind. A second Victorian team could set themselves up for 4 games a year in Hobart like the Hawks have done in Launceston. A total of 8 games for the state would be only a little less than the 11 they would have with their own state team. A state team would likely split their games between Hobart and Launceston anyway.

The game of AFL (the official international name now) has established leagues in 14 countries. This is a long way behind Rugby Union which is played in 129 countries and Soccer which is played in 207 countries. But the game of AFL is expanding healthily none the less. Over the last couple decades there have been a handful of players recruited from Ireland, as the game of Gaelic Football is similar to Australian Football. The exciting new success story is in South Africa. There are currently 10000 people participating in the sport. The exciting factor is that people from all races participate, where as only white people play Rugby and only black people play Soccer. AFL is becoming the game for all people and has even been officially recognised by the South African government as the football code of reconciliation. It is not hard to establish AFL in South Africa as it is best suited to cricket grounds which have remained unused in the Winter (Rugby and Soccer have their own stadiums.) The business plan in South Africa is to see 30000 people playing the sport within 3 years. It is widely hoped that players will be recruited to the AFL even within the next 5 years and that the competition there will be as strong as South Australia or Western Australia within 20 years.

To be continued....


Laws of Australian Football.

History of Australian Rules Football.

Geelong Football Club.

Australian Rules Football.

Indigenous Australians.

Australian Rules Football in New South Wales.

Oldest Football Club.

"Rules" almost had Sydney's paddock.

Aussie rules almost had Sydney.

History- Australian Football.

History of Australian football in New Zealand.

History of the game in New Zealand.

International Leagues.

AIS tour of South Africa.

Australia's battle of the codes- statistics.

The English origins of Australian Football.

Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lest we forget

Today is ANZAC day, it is also Good Friday in Russia. These two days have a powerful intersection, read more here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rugby vs Soccer

In researching the history of football and learning about the development of Rugby, Soccer and Australian Rules football, a large question has developed in my mind. What are the reasons that Soccer has been more successful than other codes of football in spreading around the world?

Rugby developed the original rules to their game in 1845. There was then a set of rules developed called the Cambridge rules in 1848 that was a mixture of the games of Rugby and Soccer. In 1863 an attempt was made to standardise the rules of football. During this process there was a falling out. Association Football came out of the 1863 talks and the Rugby people went their own way. They continued to play with their 1845 rules until they established their Rugby Union in 1871 and then established the Laws of Rugby.

Australian Rules football had already established their rules by 1859. The first clubs Melbourne and Geelong were established in 1859 and Adelaide in 1860.
The early expansion of Rugby and Soccer was similar. Rugby had their first international match against Scotland in 1871, Soccer had their first international match against Scotland in 1872.
The Scottish FA established themselves in 1873, the Welsh in 1875, and the Irish in 1880. Rugby was a little earlier in its expansion. Sydney University in Australia established a club in 1864, Queens University in Ireland in 1869, Nelson Football Club in New Zealand in 1870, Le Havre France in 1872, Heidelberg Germany in 1872. The Scottish Rugby Union was formed in 1873, the same year as the Scottish FA. By 1874 Rugby had spread to USA, Canada and South Africa. If Rugby spread faster than Soccer, then why did Soccer spread more successfully in the long run?

Perhaps the first reason is that Soccer established a formal competition before Rugby did. Various Rugby clubs played each other for fun but did not have established leagues. The FA established the FA cup in 1871 with 50 teams; a knock out tournament. The next big development was in 1885 when Soccer turned professional, something which Rugby Union was loathed to do and caused their split with Rugby League in 1895. By 1895, the Rugby game that had spread around the world was Union not League. Rugby Union insisted on their amateur status for the next 100 years until it turned professional in 1995.

Soccer established their League Championship in 1888 as a response to the development on professionalism. So Soccer already had a professional league in 1888, while Rugby was still an amateur game without leagues, even though it was still played in more parts of the world at the time.

Australian football had their first leagues in 1877, both the South Australian Football Association (12 teams) and the Victorian Football Association (8 teams) started official competition that year. The Victorian Football League established itself as professional in 1897 when it split from the Victorian Football Association. Australian Football spread to New Zealand in the 1860s when there was a gold rush in the Otago region. By the 1880s the game was officially called Australasian football. There were 115 Australasian football clubs in New Zealand in 1901, with New Zealand a member of the Australasian Football Council. In 1908 New Zealand competed in the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival in Melbourne. But the first world war ravaged the ranks of New Zealand Australasian Football players. After the war the game never really recovered. As Rugby was more popular, Australasian Football had died out in the 1930s, but was reintroduced there in the 1970s. Australian Football did not spread anywhere else in the early years of the game, although some argue that it had an influence on Gaelic Football in Ireland. The reason that Australian football did not spread very far is that Australia was so far from the rest of the world. Soccer spread throughout Europe and the British empire as Britain was a world power. Australia was just a collection of colonies at the end of the world.

The truth is that Soccer organised itself into leagues and professionalism a lot earlier than Rugby did. The games of Rugby and Soccer spread at similar rates in the early years. A Rugby Union was formed in Argentina in 1899 just six years after an FA was formed there. FIFA established itself in 1904 with 7 national members (with the noted absence of England). FIFA did not spread the game as such in the early years. The IRB (International Rugby Board, established in 1886), did not spread the game of Rugby either. Both games spread naturally as cultural ideas spread across borders. But it seems that where ever soccer spread it did so upon a larger base of organisation in England.

Rugby's decision to remain amateur statues most likely harmed its popularity around the world. While soccer players would not lose money for taking time off work and in later decades they could make a living from the game, Rugby players could not do so for another 100 years or so. It is true that the Rugby League in northern England was professional, just as Australian Football was, but Rugby League was not the game that spread around the world.

This has given soccer a head start of 100 years over Rugby. Soccer has had a similar break over Australian football, due to Australia's isolation. But Rugby is a thriving international professional sport today. Italy recently joined the six nations Rugby tournament in Europe in 2000. Argentina is poised to join the Southern Hemisphere tournament against South Africa, Australia and New Zealand within the next few years. Rugby is expanding at a fast rate and is even experiencing a revival in Canada and the USA.

The great FIFA lie: that the Chinese invented soccer (football)

(Note: After reading this you may like to read The history of expansion of football codes)

Quote: FIFA says its historians have proof that the game -- then called cuju or "kickball" -- originated in China some 2,000 years ago. It was even played for emperors.

Read FIFA's story here and here. This particular story apparently says that it is an "historical fact" that the Chinese invented the game of soccer.

Whooah, what a lie from the apparent victors in world football at this point in history. We all know that the winners like to rewrite history, but the Chinese did not invent soccer. This is a gross lie by FIFA designed to give them market presence in China, so that they can continue their cultural and economic conquest of the world.

Many, many ancient societies have their own versions of ball games and football games. It is important to examine the historical facts, Read my previous post on the development of football codes to understand the accurate historical story.

Some tribes in the Americas had a game where two opposing tribes played in a very large area with a ball. The object of the game was to make the opponent drop the ball on the ground. The captain of the losing team would have his heart cut out. This was a kind of "friendly" war to minimise the number of deaths.

Australian Aboriginal peoples in the South East of Australia played a game called Marn Grook, which was a football game played with a possum skin. The game of Marn Grook is most likely a lot older than the Chinese game of Cuju.

In south east Asia in the countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Philippines and Indonesia, a game called Sepak takraw is played, it is a game descended from Cuju, but it is not soccer.

The Mesoamericans had their own ballgame, using rubber balls.

The Choctaw people in North America has a stick ball game with sometimes as few as 20 players but also up to 300 players. Although they used sticks, the object was to score a goal, much like mob football.

There is also the Roman game of Harpastum, which was related to the Greek game of Paganica. Harpastum apparently was similar in appearance to Rugby.

It is true that the Chinese game of Cuju, did sometimes involve kicking the ball "through an opening, measuring only 30-40cm in width, into a small net fixed onto long bamboo canes". But other variations of the game also involved kicking the ball at a post in the middle of the field.

Proto forms of football and other various ball games existed in many parts of the ancient world. As inventions go, humans often independently come up other with similar ideas in completely isolated locations. The Chinese did not invent Soccer (football) anymore than the Greeks invented running.

The true ancestor of Soccer is actually the old English game of Mob Football, Mob football had very few rules. As a result, by the time of the 19th century there were very many variations of the rules of football. Football was played by boys in public schools across southern England. Each of the schools had separate rules. This did not matter when they only played amongst themselves. It only became an issue when the various schools wanted to play against each other. They were then forced to agree on a set of rules before a game began. Two of the most famous schools to come up with their own sets of rules were Rugby and Eton. The game of Rugby is essentially descended from the Rugby School and the game of Soccer from the Eton School. Nevertheless there was a period of 40 years when various schools played against each other that the rules of football were up for debate. These 40 years were the smelting fire that turned mob football into the two games of Rugby and Soccer, with the final split happening on December 8th, 1863.

It is very clear that Soccer was invented by the English and is a game descended from English mob football. While many ancient games may bear resemblance to modern forms of football, this does not mean that they are the "invention" of modern forms of football. The Chinese invented their own game 2000 years ago, that while it has some very vague similarities to modern Soccer, had no influence on the invention of the game what so ever. FIFA have simply tried to rewrite history for their own purposes.