AFL SELECTIVE MORALITY — WRITTEN BY BRUCE FRANCIS
In many ways, the AFL has sought to use the tradition of sport as an exemplar to benefit the Australian community. It has led the way on embracing Aboriginal people into society, on making the game more accessible to women, on welcoming refugees, on eradicating senseless violence. It has taken to a moral high ground with a relish that has set the standards for other sports in this country. Yet, you only have to scratch the surface, as the Essendon saga did, to discover that many of these apparent virtues are nothing more than condiments to hide a darker truth.
The AFL is primarily about the money, image and holding on to supreme power. Anything, any person, can and will be sacrificed to protect its power, image and the bottom line. So, instead of behaving with the greatest of purity when the Essendon saga erupted in February 2013, the AFL delved deep into its bag of dirty tricks – character assassinations, fabrications, abuse of process, bullying. Footy hadn’t changed much at all, it was still a boys’ club; the plaything of a few blokes whose own manhood was to be judged by how people cowed before them, and just how big its bottom line was. There was nothing that wasn’t to be done if it might mean stopping a hit to the bottom line and preventing someone standing up to them.
Events of recent days indicate that the AFL has faced a great dichotomy. On the one hand, some blokes’ manhoods were to be judged by who they bedded and how they rated the women’s bottoms in the office. On the other hand, the AFL was desperate to maintain the high moral ground in the public’s eyes. To that end, it sacked two of its married Errols because they had affairs with two single female staffers. However, that doesn’t tell us or the AFL staff whether McLachlan’s objections were based on only whether the executives were committing adultery or whether they were committing adultery with staff members.
McLachlan needs to clarify his position. We, and the AFL staff, need to know whether he intends to sack a married staffer if he/she has an affair with a non-staffer. We need to know whether he would terminate commissioners if they had affairs or whether he would fall on his sword, so to speak, if he had an affair.
To be honest, I think it is mindboggling that McLachlan took the high moral ground on this issue. He and the AFL seem to have strange values. He condemned what American,
Australian, French, Italian leaders et al have done, but participated in, or condoned, most of the following, which many would consider greater sins:
• McLachlan lied to the media during the Essendon saga. McLachlan decided on the outcome of the AFL/ASADA investigation on 9 February 2013, which was four days before the investigation commenced.
• McLachlan punted Essendon from the final series before the investigation was completed, and then lied about it.
• McLachlan forced the innocent James Hird to stand aside for 12 months because the government and the media needed a face.
• Demetriou lied about James Hird’s private life.
• The AFL defrauded Essendon of $2 million
• The AFL ran a corrupt joint investigation with ASADA
• The AFL denied James Hird, Mark Thompson, Danny Corcoran and Essendon procedural fairness (natural justice)
• AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon releasing to the public the most vexatious charges imaginable against Hird, Corcoran, Thompson and Dr Reid, and then withdrawing them a few days later after irreparable damage had been done to their reputations.
In the past little while we have begun hearing about TFPs, Thinking Football People, who have known for some time that the AFL had a poor culture and no clearly defined values. Heaven forbid, even Caroline Wilson has finally recognised it with her claims of being bullied over some of the things she wrote around the in-house affairs. There is a sense of the boys’ club, or the cronies’ club, beginning to unravel. There are promising signs that the new chairman of the AFL, Richard Goyder, has seen the light after inexcusably going missing during the Essendon saga. Insiders claim he has grown a pair and has the will and most importantly, the skill-set, to render change where it is most needed in the AFL – at the very top.
Being a commissioner requires much more than merely rubber-stamping the will of the executive, as has too often been the case in recent years as the AFL leaders first sought enormous powers and then began using them ruthlessly to destroy anyone who might question those powers. Increasingly, there is evidence that those powers were also instrumental in allowing AFL leaders to further their own business interests. The immorality of that is self-evident.
The AFL’s CEO, rightly or wrongly, has now declared the immorality of an adulterous affair with an un-married co-worker by forcing out our two Errols. Will he, when the evidence currently bubbling away inevitably becomes public, go the next step and declare that an adulterous affair with an unmarried non-co-worker is also an inappropriate relationship? It’s something the professional and amateur ethicists can debate for years, but what isn’t debateable is that in light of the case against the two Errols, it won’t be a good look and the bottom line could become more as demersal as some of the AFL others’ business activities. The TFPs might finally be about to get their much-needed and long-awaited chance to take their place in the running of the AFL and shape its culture and values away from cronyism, character assassination and bald-faced deceit and towards the world’s best practice that should always have been its aspiration.