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Jun 13, 2008

No expansion race for soccer, AFL: FFA

Football Federation Australia boss Ben Buckley insists soccer is not locked in an expansion race with the AFL despite both codes plunging headlong into the same new markets.

Last week, the A-League issued its ninth licence in the region so coveted by the AFL - the Gold Coast - with Australia's fourth richest man Clive Palmer snapping it up and planning to kick off in the 2009-10 season.

And the AFL has upped the stakes in the other hotspot, western Sydney, with plans to fast-track an under-18 side for the region as soon as next year to feed the region's AFL side planned for 2012.

But despite the two codes chasing the same hearts, minds and athletes on at least two battlefields, Buckley insists western Sydney has become no more important for the A-League since the AFL signalled its plans to set up shop there.

"The western part of Sydney is important for building the game and football right across the country," said Buckley, the former No.2 at the AFL to current chief executive Andrew Demetriou.

"It's not a race. We've never said it was a race.

"The west of Sydney has a very large participation base for football, it has a lot of outstanding talent for the game and there's a strong demand for the game there.

"We believe it's a natural outcome to have a team based there over time."

The FFA has received two expressions of interest for a western Sydney team of the eight being mulled over to eventually increase the A-League to an eventual 12-club competition.

Melbourne, Wollongong and Townsville are also being considered as possible new bases for an A-League franchise.

The FFA has set up an expansion sub-committee to consider the proposals, and it will also report on a timeframe to award further licenses.

But if the timetables go to plan, top-flight soccer will have a two-year jump on AFL on the Gold Coast, and probably set up before the 2012 western Sydney AFL side should A-League bosses decide a team should be established there.

The AFL has plans to expand to 18 teams, with a Gold Coast side coming on board in 2011 and western Sydney the following year.

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