THE current spat between the Australian Football League and the Football Federation of Australia about venues needed for staging the soccer World Cup here brings home at last the reach of the world game.
Apart from squabbling about who has copyright to the word ''football'', the possible staging of the World Cup here might change things forever. With Australia and New Zealand having qualified for the finals next year in South Africa, the other football codes must be well aware of the competitive challenge confronting them. There was a time when soccer in this country was derisively called ''wogball''.
It was only in 1970 that English football was first shown here on television and even then at some ungodly hour. What soccer there was here was the source of embarrassing ethnic and tribal tensions; it only came to an end when the FFA rebooted the game, as it were, from the ground up with a national A-league, denuded of ethnic allegiances. The federation has never looked back.
Thanks to globalisation and multiculturalism, the world game has reached Australia. About 240 million people play soccer competitively and nearly 20 per cent of the world's population watched the last World Cup final in 2006.
In this country women become converts to the sport when the World Cup finals are on. Soccer and money are soul brothers.
It has been shown that major club teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan are a powerful form of brand capitalism. They also tend to be found in relatively prosperous countries and often in the largest and most prosperous cities. A Deakin University economist recently found that cities which are home to powerful clubs are winners and have a commanding political and economic influence; which, in turn, has a positive impact upon the development of the surrounding region.
At the national level it's been shown, too, that the wealthier nations are generally the better footballing nations in terms of World Cup success. Six of the G7 nations, for instance, are in the top 20 of successful nations ranked by the FIFA. Only Canada, Japan and the US have been relatively unsuccessful at the World Cup finals but the latter two are now ranked in the top 20 of FIFA rankings.
BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) has within its ranks the might of Brazil. India and China, though, are still in spectator class; which is just as well as population size - as well as relative economic power - have a bearing upon footballing prowess.
Australia - which is a member of the G20 - is ranked just below one of the nations it will play in the finals, Serbia. Another team the Socceroos face in South Africa is Germany, which has played in a record seven World Cup finals.
One of the key factors behind the rise of Australian soccer, besides a deep gene pool of talent, was a ruling by the European Court of Justice that opened up major soccer leagues to foreign professionals. Almost all the Socceroos' first team members play in Europe. While players like Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell have market access to the First-World football market - and prosper immensely from it - they still, as the song goes, call Australia home when it come to international duty.
Alex Millmow is a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Ballarat.