Sheedy and Barassi urge AFL to take on world

    TWO of football's greatest visionaries, Kevin Sheedy and Ron Barassi, have urged the AFL to expand the game internationally as a matter of priority.

Barassi said it would be "gutless and small-minded" of the league not to spread its wings further.

Sheedy, an AFL ambassador for its 150 years celebration, speculated whether the league, at the end of the current media deal, sell off the Round 1 matches around the globe.

"How great would that be?" Sheedy said. "Auction off Round 1 to capital cities around the world and then we could get on with the season."

The former Essendon coach, who was recently in Canada and the US representing the AFL, has also suggested giving away free tickets to international students who could then return to their home countries in love with AFL.

"Why not," Sheedy said. "If a thousand tickets were given to a thousand students . . . would that be the right thing? I think it is. We've got to think smarter.

"And there's always spare seats at a game, anyway."

The two AFL icons spoke at the launch of Melbourne's Chinese membership drive, held on Wednesday night at the Chinese Museum.

"This initiative by Melbourne is an adventure worthwhile," Sheedy said.

"We've had this game fenced in for too many years and we haven't really put enough effort into releasing it to the world.

"I'm prepared to look at all angles to make sure we get this game up faster, quicker and better than it's ever been done before.

"When you a hear a tremendous idea to tune into the student market in Melbourne, we should have discussions about how to actually send back people who fall in love with our game . . . how do we actually get these young students to take our game back?"

AFL game development and international manager David Matthews, who was a keen listener, said: "It's pretty topical international, isn't it.

"The focus is on our domestic strength, particularly growing New South Wales and Queensland, but that doesn't mean, and we made this decision a couple of years ago, we don't think strategically about what different markets can offer us. South Africa might be participation and talent, Dubai might be events, corporate and government relations, the US might be broadcasting, and China is one we've got to continue to work through and see what the potential is."

It's anticipated Melbourne would play a pre-season competition game in Shanghai in 2010 as part of Australia's investment at the World Expo.

Sheedy, who first enticed an American footballer, Dwayne Armstrong

, to the AFL in the 1990s, said the International Cup to be played in Victoria in August would continue to grow.

"And to think the No. 1 draft choice this year, either No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3, could be a six-foot-six (198cm) boy from Fiji. Now that's exciting."




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