Former Australian Football League side Hawthorn captain David Parkin "is prepared to donate his brain to an AFL brain bank when he dies as the league probes the link between concussion and brain damage," according to Jon Ralph of the HERALD SUN. Parkin, who "describes himself as the most concussed man in football, had 13 concussions, the last of which ended his career when he woke 26 hours after the blow." The AFL "has commissioned world-leading research through the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, which is investigating links between concussion and long-term damage, including brain injuries, depression and cognitive function." Through the AFL Players’ Association, it "plans to audit" as many as 5,000 former players, "screen them for long-term issues and plan strategies to help those" such as former Carlton player Greg Williams. Parkin said, "If they need brains to look at, there is not a more concussed brain than mine, so I am happy to give it to them." The AFL and Melbourne's Florey Institute said that they "are looking at all aspects of concussion in football and its effects." The league said that "it is determined to help players" (HERALD SUN, 3/24).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
Hong Kong FA CEO Mark Sutcliffe has a lot to be optimistic about. With the implementation of the new Hong Kong Premier League in September, a new training facility and $2.5B stadium in the works, these are exciting times. Sutcliffe, who took over the HKFA in '12, told SBD Global the new HKPL will implement a new license system, much like that used in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League, to ensure strict governance and management. “Clubs are going to have to apply and go through a rigorous assessment. They’re going to have to be very clear and specific about who owns the club, any outsourcing arrangements, and they’re going to have to submit audited accounts for us to pour over and make sure that they are legitimate,” Sutcliffe said. With the new license system’s regulation of foreign players, coaching qualifications and youth development, Sutcliffe also expects to see improvements in the quality on the pitch. “It’s about professionalizing every aspect of the club. It’s going to be much more transparent than historically,” Sutcliffe said.
PROJECT PHOENIX: The HKFA is currently in discussions to extend its three-year government-funded program, Project Phoenix, which expires in October. Sutcliffe said, “In terms of whether [Project Phoenix] has been successful or not, there were 33 recommendations, 22 of them have been implemented fully.” Sutcliffe said that among the program’s ongoing successes has been the increase in qualified coaches and referees, the U16 team’s first qualification in the regional finals and an improvement in the senior team’s FIFA ranking. Despite these results, Sutcliffe said that not every area of the project has progressed as hoped. The HKFA is still waiting on its football training center, a facility Sutcliffe said the league “definitely” needs. “At the moment, our teams have no dedicated training facilities, so they move around from venue to venue for their training programs, which is not ideal.” A former landfill, large enough to accommodate 10 pitches, has been earmarked by the government for 10 years, but construction has yet to begin. Sutcliffe: “Generally speaking I would say [Project Phoenix] is a success. Time will tell whether our partners think so and whether we get the additional funding we need.”
REBUILDING JOB: With this year marking the HKFA’s centenary, Sutcliffe said that interest in the First Division league has decreased since its peak in the '80s. “The domestic league would fill the stadium, which is 30-40 thousand on a regular basis,” Sutcliffe said. He added that the reason for the decline stemmed from the departure of foreign players, and most recently, the rise of football on TV. With the English Premier League and other European leagues being screened in Hong Kong, the demand for live football began to decline. “If people want to watch some good quality football, they can do it from the comfort of their own living room rather than going out to watch it live in Hong Kong,” Sutcliffe said. While the professional game has weakened, interest in the sport has remained strong. Sutcliffe: “In terms of participation, [football] is the most popular sport in Hong Kong. Over 300,000 people play it on a weekly basis.”
LOOKING FORWARD: With Hong Kong’s proximity to mainland China, Sutcliffe said the option of joining the Chinese Super League has been discussed, but complications have hampered further progress. “We’re looking at it, but I think it’s more realistic for us to play in one of their cup competitions than in one of their leagues at the moment,” Sutcliffe said. Joining would require clubs to enter in at a lower division and qualify for the CSL though promotion, a process that could take four to five years, with no guarantee of advancing. Sutcliffe: “But it’s something that we shouldn’t lose sight of because it will certainly generate more interest and a bigger crowd if there was a Hong Kong team playing against a team from Shanghai or Beijing or wherever.”
NEW STADIUM: Sutcliffe hopes to see bigger crowds materialize with the completion of the new Kai Tak Stadium. Set to be completed in ‘20, the $2.5B project will house 50,000 and feature a retractable roof. Sutcliffe hopes that the Hong Kong government’s recent decision to foot the bill for the project might move the completion forward to ‘19. “We need that project,” Sutcliffe said. “At the moment lots of big European clubs, both national teams and club teams want to go to Hong Kong. It’s a gateway to China. It’s a great commercial opportunity for them.” Sutcliffe said that the need for a larger stadium was evident during ManU’s 2013 Asia Tour when tickets to its match against local side Kitchee at Hong Kong Stadium sold out in four hours. “We need a bigger stadium, otherwise Hong Kong could lose ground to places like Singapore, which is about to open a brand new sports hub,” Sutcliffe said. “The training center project and the Kai Tak project are critical for the future of football in Hong Kong.”
Australia "will launch a new domestic rugby competition aimed at bridging the gap between the club and provincial game later this year," according to Nick Mulvenney of REUTERS. Initially featuring nine teams, the competition "will bid to emulate New Zealand's National Provincial Championship and South Africa's Currie Cup, which have proved highly successful in breeding talent for Super Rugby and the test arena." The National Rugby Championship "will run for 11 weeks from August this year and feature teams in five of Australia's eight states and territories." Rugby heartlands New South Wales and Queensland "will have four and two teams respectively, while Melbourne, Perth and Canberra will have one team each" (REUTERS, 3/24). In Sydney, Bret Harris reported the announcement "evoked memories of the defunct Australian Rugby Championship, which lasted one year in 2007 before being dismantled." The structure of the NRC "is eerily similar to the ARC." Even "some of the logos of the teams are the same." Asked why the NRC "would succeed where the ARC failed," Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said, "I could probably argue that the ARC did work from a player development perspective. What failed in 2007 was the financial model" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 3/25). Also in Sydney, Ben Horne wrote Pulver is confident the relaunched NRC can "make a profit in its first year." Pulver said that with broadcasters Fox Sports and Foxtel "pledging to cover the costs of the competition, and sponsors and financial guarantors backing up the teams, the business model of the NRC is sound compared to its predecessor." He said, "I'd be very disappointed if this competition didn't at least break even in 2014 and I think we have a real opportunity moving forward to make money out of this competition" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 3/24). In Sydney, Jamie Pandaram reported to ignite interest, the ARU "is considering a number of new laws" -- including those suggested by fans on social media -- "to create an exciting product full of running rugby." Some of the changes being considered are:
- Reducing the value of penalty goals and drop goals from three points to two.
- Increasing the value of conversions from two points to three.
- Preventing teams kicking penalty goals from outside the 22.
- Stopping the clock for scrums, restarting it only when the ball is out.
- Aggressive refereeing of breakdown infringements, with a team warning given for first offense, and immediate yellow card for a second offense by an any player (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3/24).
The National Basketball League has commenced a formal process to establish a new South East Melbourne club as part of its expansion plan for the '15-16 season. An advertising campaign was launched in Victorian newspapers on Monday calling for expressions of interest from prospective license holders. It is intended to focus primarily on scheduling games throughout the shires of Dandenong, Casey, Knox and Cardinia (NBL). In Sydney, Jon Pierik wrote the NBL "has long been keen on a second franchise in Melbourne, but a lack of finances has been a major issue." The South East Melbourne Magic "was a championship winning franchise when coached by Brian Goorjian in the 1990s, and the name could be reprised" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 3/24).