The AFL has walked such a fine line on social issues that, sometimes, it is difficult to tell whether it is a good corporate citizen or an opportunistic cause merchant.

As Fairfax Media reported on the weekend, two new documentaries about the disgraceful treatment of Adam Goodes will remind us how the AFL failed to live up to its rhetoric on Indigenous affairs because it did not want to upset the supporters who racially vilified the Sydney Swans champion.

But in celebrating Anzac Day at a packed MCG, the AFL has generally been in tune with the sentiment of the public and — most importantly — of the military and their families.

Perhaps this is because the Collingwood versus Essendon game grew from a relatively simple idea hatched by the Bombers legendary coach Kevin Sheedy in consultation with his Magpie counterparts, and gained the immediate approval of the Victorian RSL.

This was first and foremost a commemoration, not a branding exercise.

Collingwood's Steele Sidebottom and coach Nathan Buckley (R) after the Magpies' win over Essendon.

As importantly, the first edition in 1995 played before a crowd of 94,825 on a perfect autumn day came as Anzac Day was regaining its place in the national consciousness.

This was about the time the thinning ranks of returned servicemen were augmented by family members. When Australia was finding new ways to honour the Anzacs in an era when the commemoration of our war heroes had been confused, by some, with the celebration of war itself.

External Link: AFL tweet: "The @CollingwoodFC/@EssendonFC joint banner. A great Anzac Day tradition."

Twenty-three years later the AFL's Anzac Day match has generally maintained its sense of respect and dignity. Inevitably, however, the focus on two teams created Anzac Envy.

So now rather than the single standalone Anzac Day match, every game gets a bugle. By the time the ball is bounced on Wednesday afternoon it will have been five days since the first minute's silence at the Sydney-Adelaide Friday night match.

The AFL's decision to hold commemorations at every game might be justified by the need to placate the 16 clubs who feel locked out of the Anzac Day match and to give them a chance to honour those from their clubs who served.

But the decision to hold an Anzac Eve game — this year between Melbourne and Richmond — smacked of opportunism.

Even the name, resonant of Christmas Eve, seems somehow inappropriate given it channels a sense of excitement about the day to come, when Anzac Day starts with quiet dawn reflection.

Whether the AFL's intentions were honourable or commercially driven, the result of the AFL's "Anzac Weekend" policy is a case of Anzac Fatigue; perhaps even a dilution of the importance of the day itself.

There is no silence quite as heavy as that of almost 100,000 people at the MCG standing with heads bowed. Even the fools who once screamed inappropriately before the Last Post now generally respect the moment.

Orazio Fantasia celebrates a goal against Collingwood

The obvious problem is that only Collingwood and Essendon supporters and day trippers have been afforded the privilege of this poignant occasion. So the eagerness of the other clubs and their fans to experience something like it on other days is both understandable and, now irresistible.

The solution is for the AFL to rotate Anzac Day between all 18 clubs. Put them in brackets — the four non-Melbourne derbies seem obvious fits — and ensure that each club plays on Anzac Day once every nine years — perhaps sooner if multiple games are held when Anzac Day falls on the weekend.

There would be outcry from some Collingwood and Essendon supporters claiming that their clubs "invented" the Anzac Day game. Of course, there were big games on Anzac Day games long before Sheedy helped reinvigorate the concept.

As has been stated often, North Melbourne "invented" Friday night football. Yet the Kangaroos have been rewarded for their ingenuity with a place at the back of the Friday night queue with other low drawing clubs.

There is also the "it's not broken" argument. Two big clubs with a now long established rivalry are guaranteed to pack the MCG and so the game is a considered a tradition.

But, surely, the real tradition is that a game of football is played that afternoon, not who plays it. Knowing that their team might only play eight or nine Anzac Day games in their lifetime, it is unlikely there will be empty seats regardless who is scheduled.

Fremantle players pay Anzac respects

A rotation should mean taking the Anzac Day game outside Melbourne. This might create outrage from the game's Victorian custodians, but at least the AFL would be throwing a bone to those in a supposedly national competition who recently learned the grand final would stay at the MCG until Barnaby Joyce's newborn son is Prime Minister.

In one sense, suggesting the Anzac Day match be shared is not timely. This Collingwood-Essendon game is particularly appealing with two teams that have struggled in recent seasons displaying signs of life.

But Anzac Day has always been a self-contained event with the quality, drama and even the results of games often engrossing and unpredictable regardless of recent form. It is an atmosphere, and occasion, that can't be recreated by holding a ceremony on another day.

Instead of spreading Anzac Day thin, give every club a turn on April 25 and make it the standalone commemoration that it should be.

Original Article

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