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Western Bulldogs' example for the common good

  • 12 October 2016


The best writers on sport show that it is a metaphor for life. Perhaps that is why the triumph of the Western Bulldogs in the AFL Grand Final has been so ruthlessly milked for larger significance that it should now be put out to graze.

But I would like to exploit it once more because it illustrates the weakness of the liberal politics I discussed last week. To recap, the assumption of liberal politics is that the government should give priority to economic growth through a free competitive market. It identifies the national good with economic growth and effectively defines personal worth by the individual's level of participation in the economy.

It assumes also that all will benefit from the economic growth that unfettered competition between individuals yields.

The joy of the Western Bulldogs victory lay in its challenge to these assumptions. In the first place it was only possible because the clubs had realised that unfettered competition did not benefit all clubs. It increased the resources and success of wealthy clubs while threatening to leave poor clubs resourceless and unsuccessful.

The Western Bulldogs, a relatively poor club, recognised that its own success had been possible only because the competition between clubs was moderated by caps that limited the money that could be spent on buying players and on infrastructure, and by a distribution of revenue that gave financial and other support to poorer clubs, most notably to those in the rugby badlands.

The wealthier clubs, though with some grumbling, accepted this restriction on competition because they realised that in the longer term their own prosperity depended on ensuring the prosperity of all clubs, and especially the weakest.

They recognised that a competition in which most clubs were uncompetitive, their supporter base apathetic, and their games unattractive to watch, would lessen public interest in the game. This would affect the media interest and income on which their own prosperity relied. Unrestricted competition would undermine their own prosperity.

In the Western Bulldogs' premiership, too, economic factors were consistently set within a broader pattern. The club recognised the importance of many sets of relationships, all of which were important in the building of the club.


"In the search for success football clubs accept a responsibility to place individual competitiveness in a broader context. It leads them to encourage a player to miss a game at some cost to the team for personal or family reasons."


Those that aimed at profit,