For many Australians, sport and our national identity is inter-linked, and one would never expect to see the quintessential Australian super star turning away from Australian sports teams and representing Australia to players trying their luck for fame and fortune overseas. Australians have started to represent themselves in the NFL, with visible NRL stars including Jarryd Hayne and Valentine Holmes attempting to make the cut overseas.
While these prominent football stars have not been beacons of success, those Australians who head to the NFL to become punters and kickers (a position more natural to Australians), have had great success, including recognition as some of the best players in the league at their position.
Take, Sonny-Bill Williams (admittedly a New Zealander) who recently announced he will take his sporting talents to the Toronto Wolfpack in a huge boon for Rugby League in Canada, on a record breaking $10m/2-year deal. This deal, far more lucrative than anything he might command in Australia or New Zealand highlights the shift towards international opportunities.
One can only wonder if this will be the beginning of a trend for the sports where Australia represents the highest level of competition, but not the most lucrative. Will we see Australian sporting heroes turn their back on domestic competition in search of commercial rewards? Will we see players change sports so that they can play at both the highest level and the greatest commercial opportunity (a la Ben Simmons, Australian NFL punters)? Will this pull be most effective in Europe and US, where players play in larger markets?
This development will be interesting to watch over the next few years as Sonny-Bill makes the best of his time in Toronto. Let’s watch this space.