With the events that have occurred in the last week, it would appear that tanking is slowly becoming a growing issue within sporting culture, right from the world stage of the Olympics, to its suggested presence in AFL.
Last week saw four Olympic badminton teams disqualified by the International Olympic Committee for purposely losing heats in order to gain an advantage during medal contention. The IOC took a harsh stance on the issue and in effect has set precedence in dealing with tanking.
Coincidentally, alarm bells were once again raised regarding tanking early last week within the AFL, this time by Brock McLean. McLean implied that his former club Melbourne tanked by “experimenting” during the second half of the 2009 season in order to secure priority draft picks.
Although despite the continual speculation of tanking being apparent in AFL, Andrew Demetriou firmly believes that it does not exist, it has not existed in the past and it is “completely stupid.”
“If you adopt a mentality to manufacture an outcome that is going to get you a top pick, and it is going to solve all of your problems, then you are delusional and you are stupid and you are almost nurturing a culture of losing.”
The most concerning aspect about the idea of tanking is not the fact that these teams are essentially match fixing, but rather that it goes against everything that sport is about; putting your best team and your best efforts forward in a serious attempt to succeed and win.
Tanking isn’t something that has short-term effects. It is offensive to the players who spend weeks and months putting intense effort into becoming the fittest and best they can be. It produces criticism and an undesirable stigma of incompetence to become attached to the coaching staff. It disheartens supporters from turning up to games and renewing their memberships. And most serious of all, it taints the nature of AFL.
Andrew Demetriou further emphasised that “any issue that involves integrity of the code, any issue, is something we should thump on the head.” However, it would seem that deciding on an appropriate penalty for tanking is proving difficult.
Removing the priority pick has been a suggestion made to eliminate the temptation to tank. The idea behind the priority pick is to promote development of a club in the future and the danger with removing it is that clubs that are genuinely struggling may miss out on this advantage.
Alternatives to the pick have been suggested, such as an NBA style lottery. The idea is that the team that finishes on the bottom of the ladder isn’t guaranteed the priority pick, but rather has the highest chance of receiving it, through having the largest percentage in the lotto.
Another suggestion is to break the ladder into two smaller competitions during the finals series; the top eight teams play in the finals and the bottom ten teams play for the priority pick. Although the problem with this is that teams who are capable of playing finals but narrowly miss out of a top eight spot, may win the priority pick when the advantage isn’t particularly necessary.
The AFL continue to stand by their belief that a tanking culture is one which is not within the game, and the current priority pick system is free of flaws. However, for the future of the game, the AFL need to reconsider the current system, take a harsh stand much like the IOC and make an example that tanking is not acceptable behaviour.