Former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire has defended Hawthorn's James Sicily over unflattering comments the AFL star made about Tasmania, following news the state is edging closer to having its own team. The AFL has said Tasmania's entry to the competition is contingent on the construction of a $715 million stadium at Hobart's waterfront.
The project requires $240m in federal funds, which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will reportedly announce this weekend. The state government will contribute $12 million per year over 12 years towards a team, plus $60 million for a high-performance centre.
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The AFL has committed $360 million over a decade, including $90 million in game development and $33 million for player talent academies. It will spend $15 million on the stadium, with $85 million to come from borrowings against land sale or lease for commercial uses.
Tasmania hosts eight AFL games a season under agreements with Hawthorn and North Melbourne to play fixtures at Launceston's University of Tasmania Stadium and Hobart's Blundstone Arena. The AFL has indicated that in order to grant a Tasmanian team the 19th license to be part of the league, then its inner-city stadium must be fully funded.
Apart from the other hurdles Tasmania needs to overcome, the state will also face inevitable challenges attracting talent to the Apple Isle. It's an issue Sicily thrust into the spotlight, with a blunt assessment about Tasmania when asked if players would be reluctant to move there to play AFL.
"I think so, particularly as a young guy, because there's not much happening down there, it could be difficult," Sicily told RSN on Wednesday. "I couldn't imagine myself living there. It would be hard."
Sicily's comments caused uproar amongst many AFL fans supportive of Tasmania's bid for a team, including former AFL player Mitch Robinson and Aussie sprinter Jacob Despard - two proud Tasmanians who took aim at Sicily on Twitter. The Hawthorn star was also called out due to the Tasmanian government's partnership with the Hawks.
"I'm sure sponsors love hearing that, considering Tassie pumps $13.5 million into a club that's currently on struggle street," Robbinson wrote. Despard added: "Absolutely ridiculous comment considering how much money the state pumps into the Hawthorn Football Club."
Eddie McGuire defends James Sicily comments
Sicily did have support from McGuire, however, with the AFL icon commending the Hawks star for speaking his mind. “James Sicily, you can say he‘s the captain, but he is just telling the truth for a change," McGuire said.
“Tim Lane and Jack Riewoldt and all these guys, who have a great love for Tasmania, can sell it as much as they like. But they all live in Melbourne. I don‘t know if there’s any kids at the moment lying awake hoping that they’re going to play in Tasmania on a refurbished Launceston Oval.
"That’s not having a go at Tasmanian football, but the biggest thing I said two years ago is that they had to start, at that stage, putting $20 million into building a pathway. They‘ve good to get the right people in there and get the pathways because they need to have a genuine Tasmanian presence in that team to make it work.”
Following the furore over his initial comments, Sicily took to social media on Wednesday night to apologise for any offence he may have caused and clarify that he was merely referring to his own "personal situation". "I want to apologise to anyone I have offended or upset about my comments on Tasmania today," he wrote.
"The comments I made on RSN were flippant, and do not reflect my views of Tasmania. What I said related to my personal situation, that throughout my career, my attachment to Melbourne would have made it hard to live in Tassie full-time.
"That's not to say there are not many AFL footballers who would enjoy living there. I love coming down to Tassie to stay and play, I visit Tassie yearly outside of football to enjoy its golf courses and food. I'm proud of our long-term relationship with the state and I continue to support Tasmania getting its own team."
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