AFL free agency 'could help strugglers' - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

AFL free agency 'could help strugglers'

By Adam Cooper 01/05/2008 06:58:31 PM Comments (0)

Players' union boss Brendon Gale believes free agency could help struggling AFL clubs compete on-field amid the league's expansion plans.

Gale has stressed the AFL Players' Association (AFLPA) was encouraged by the league's commitment to further discuss free agency again soon, despite the AFL's refusal to guarantee that the concept would be introduced eventually.

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said on Wednesday the league and AFLPA would continue talks "with a view to reaching an agreement" by the end of this year.

Gale, the AFLPA chief executive, was encouraged the AFL had acknowledged free agency needed more discussion, and was hopeful players could be soon allowed to switch clubs more easily, after a period of service, than under the current trade system.

The AFL fears free agency could undermine the evenness of the competition, while the player poachings witnessed in European soccer - plus sky-rocketing wages among players - has added to negative connotations in the public.

But Gale insisted the salary cap would prevent free agency creating a gulf in success between the richer and poorer clubs.

Instead, he said, free agency would assist on-field strugglers recruit experienced players over the next three years to compensate for the loss of high draft picks to the expansion franchises.

The AFL is expected to provide the new franchises, most likely to be based on the Gold Coast and in western Sydney, with generous recruiting concessions, both in the national draft and with access to uncontracted players from other clubs.

"We're already talking about free agency for the expansion clubs, we're already talking about giving them the ability to pick up uncontracted players," Gale said.

"We're also talking about giving them the ability to preferentially list, identify and secure talent to pull them out of the pathway.

"So for the clubs (which) finish in the bottom end of the ladder in the next few years, they're not going to get the opportunity to access those sorts of players, the top end of the draft.

"So in that context, free agency, giving those clubs the opportunity to go and get a couple of seasoned players who can fill a hole here or there, is going to be important for their ability to compete and provide competitive balance."

Gale said the AFLPA was supportive of measures to keep the competition even - the salary cap, national draft and player-list sizes - and prevent richer clubs stockpiling playing talent.

Under the AFLPA proposal put to the league, players would have been given power to leave their clubs after only five seasons.

The union will now aim to strike a compromise with the AFL, which could mean increasing the duration to eight seasons.

The talks have given Gale hope that players will not be forced into challenging the AFL's rules in court in restraint of trade cases.

Player agent Ricky Nixon said last month he had law firms ready to challenge the AFL's rules and would not hesitate if one of his clients was prevented joining the club of his choice.

Gale said legal action was the "furthest thing from our minds because we're talking and we're making progress".

Nixon did not return calls, but fellow player agents Paul Connors and Ricky Olarenshaw said the threat of legal action remained, even if they were encouraged by the union's progress.

"Legal action, we don't want to get to that, but we'll keep working with the AFL and the players' union and I'm sure there'll be some sort of compromise reached," Olarenshaw said.

Connors said: "It's not going to be ruled out, but having said that, from where we were a month ago to where we are today there's wonderful, wonderful gains."

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