The AFL’s Corruption Case

Essendon’s 2012 supplements program has once again reared it’s ugly head. However, this time it is more definitive. Mystery still surrounds the details, but if nothing else, the public now has a clear indication of to whom they should be listening.

The late, great Christopher Hitchens once spoke of the concept of “radical evil”:

“The evil that’s so evil that in the end it destroys itself.”

He described this inevitable self-destruction as its one redeeming feature. It will come to an end.

Of course he was talking of Saddam Hussain’s Iraqi regime, not football.

The link between the AFL and its CEO, and a corrupt dictatorship has oft been drawn. The supporters of the current regime simply dismiss such a comparison as extreme, and therefore invalid, rhetoric.

The reader will have to excuse the hyperbole, or at least forgo the pedantry, in order to follow the analogy.

As far as we know, Andrew Demetriou has not sentenced anyone to death.

As far as we know.

However, he is more than happy to dispense unjust punishments for non-crimes. To oversee the character assassination of innocent people. To destroy reputations, end careers and take away people’s livelihoods. To coerce those below him with force and/or bribes. To make rules and to break them as he sees fit. And of course, to attempt to cover it all up.

The dictatorial aspects are all present.

Certainly the scale of offences is vastly different, but a flippant dismissal of the comparison is to either miss the point of the comparison, or a deliberate ploy to distract from the self-evident similarities. In short, such defenders of the AFL are either dense, or biased. Neither explanation lends the source credibility.

In his Axis of Evil speech quoted above, Hitchens continued to describe a situation whereby people were ordered to kill their fellow man:

“Now they’re in the plot, now they are cemented to leadership. Hitler wouldn’t have thought of that. Stalin didn’t even think of that, and he thought about these things a lot. About how to get one member of the central committee to betray another member and to keep them all guessing so you’ll be the ultimate beneficiary. But this is that added little touch of sadomasochistic genius, this is the adding of the godfather and the soprano to the mixture of Nazism and Stalinism.”

In the case of the AFL, those now cemented to the leadership are its loyal media contingent. They initially adopted this position for prudential reasons. The AFL provide the accreditation on which their careers depend, but more than that, they provide invitations to exclusive events and even direct leaks of privileged and confidential information. These leaks become unofficial press releases favourable to the administration, and beneficial to the reporter’s careers. Both parties prosper from a little insider dealing.

Early in the piece, the majority of the media chose their side, and of course their allegiances were to their master. It appeared the wise choice as nobody would ever have expected anyone to have the gumption to fight the sports governing body. That’s just not how it is done.

This line becomes the defence of any and all corruption. The truth is hidden behind a veil of secrecy as the league attempts to negotiate the quickest and quietest solution to any problem that presents itself. The public never needs to know. That is how it is done. Over, and over, again.

Every stakeholder seems to defend this corrupt status-quo as it protects the overall brand. They don’t even question it. They simply state “that is how it’s done”, move on, and expect others to be satisfied.

I’m not. I wonder if any other perpetrator of organised crime could use that excuse. Imagine an outlaw gang member taking the stand and telling the judge, “Sure I killed the guy. And he deserved it too. This is just how it’s done in our world.”

I doubt the judge would reply. “Oh, well, glad that’s sorted, you’re free to go.”

On a corporate, white-collar level this paltry excuse seems sufficient. It is not.

Any journalist still making the case about Essendon’s or Hird’s, culpability or lack of governance have failed to keep up with the argument. Essendon’s supplement program is no longer the issue, it is simply the most recent iteration of a long established problem: the deep-seated corruption of the AFL itself.

It can be seen in numerous “tanking” allegations, most of which were ignored, other’s swept under the carpet, until finally culminating in the harsh punishments dealt to a scapegoat.

It can be seen in the “priority pick” system which encouraged the above. A system that was quietly abandoned without an admission of fault, or even an acknowledgement that the issues might be related.

It can be seen in multiple salary cap violations, ranging from genuine miscalculations to deliberate abuse and manipulation of the system involving 3rd party deals or a second set of books.

It can be seen in the league’s illicit drugs policy, which purports to be a 3-strikes policy but in actual fact allows for an infinite number of discretions, all of which are kept under wraps. This secrecy prevents bad press, but effectively encourages players to experiment with drugs safe the in knowledge that they will not be punished, and it provides the time for recreational use to devolve into a destructive addiction. The AFL prioritises it’s own image protection ahead of the welfare of it’s athletes.

It can be seen in the character assassination of Matt Rendell for the crime of daring to speak the truth in regards to poor racial relations.

And, of course, it can be seen in the supplements saga.

The issue is one of severe mismanagement from the very top of the league. The entire debacle is in need of a rebranding. Any future references should use the label “The AFL’s Corruption Case”, not anything about Essendon, Hird or supplements.

This is the clue as to which journalists are worth reading.

If any alleged journalist attempts to deflect from the ongoing, systematic corruption and instead points the finger at Essendon, you know they are nothing more than an AFL shill fighting against the truth rather than searching for it. Their opinions and “facts” can be safely be ignored from the outset.

The most disturbing part of their attempted misdirection is not only that it is irrelevant to the current discussion, but it is itself deeply flawed. On every level.

My favourite “argument” pushed by all AFL parties and their established shills is the mantra like repetition that, “Andrew Demetriou couldn’t have tipped off the Bombers because he was cleared by the Australian Crime Commission. End of story.”

This argument is quite plainly a non-sequitur, and it goes like this:

  1. Demetriou is told “a team” is involved in questionable practices. He wasn’t specifically told which club.
  2. Therefore, in targeted talks with Essendon chairman, David Evans, he couldn’t have revealed any privileged information.
  3. Therefore, the ACC determined he did not break the law.
  4. Therefore, he didn’t tip-off Evans.

Were this presented to a philosopher, their head would explode.

The main flaw in the “argument” is that the assessment of guilt by the ACC is of no consequence. (*see footnote)

The question is not whether he broke the law, but whether he was involved in Essendon’s original decision to “self” report to ASADA.

This is a pivotal question as it refutes another question continually posed by the shills as though it were a devastating dilemma.

“Why self report if you’ve done nothing wrong?”

“Because the chief said to, next question!”

Their house of cards begins to collapse, but by this stage they cannot concede the point. So they repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it.

“Now they’re in the plot”, as Hitchens said.

Their allegiances have been set, and now the last thing they want is the truth exposed. It would be devastating to their reputations and careers. Following the facts would not only bring down the AFL’s administration, but themselves as well. So instead they evade, dodge, and place blame on someone else. They re-raise finished business in order to exploit the public sentiment of negativity towards Essendon, and the public’s dimorphic combination of anger and apathy in regards to the entire case.

This is a tactic which has served them well. It is the same public relations war that initially ended the case on the eve of the finals.

Now the case is back, and it brings with it many questions.

Not least of which is the behaviour of their alleged villain, James Hird.

Throughout the entire saga, Hird had been faced with continual door-stops. He was well within his rights to refuse to answer questions, and ask for privacy. Instead he greeted the waiting media throng on an almost daily basis, usually dressed in a smile and calm demeanour, essentially holding press conferences from his own driveway.

Do these sound like the actions of a guilty man with something to hide?

All year he repeated the message that he understands the media’s role and he actively encouraged them to uncover the truth.

This theme was echoed in his desire to have an open hearing to get all the facts on the public record, proceeding all the way to the supreme court if necessary.

Do these sound like the requests of a guilty man with something to hide?

At the time of settlement, these questions could be dismissed as a convincing act orchestrated to fight the public relations war. But now?

How does that argument hold?

Why would “the architect” of the biggest scandal in the history of Australian sport, who escaped with: no pronouncement of guilt; a one year paid vacation worth in excess of a million dollars; funded study at an esteemed international business school; a two year contract extension; and a guarantee to be welcomed back into the fold with all the privileges that encompasses, want to scratch old wounds?


There is no reasonable way to answer this question if it is assumed Hird is guilty. But what if the alleged villain was another of the AFL’s scapegoats, their acceptable collateral damage? In this scenario the resurfacing of the case would make sense. As would his behaviour throughout the whole season for that matter, and his and his club’s belief in eventual vindication once the facts were a matter of public knowledge.

The shills’ only attempt to refute this problem is to concoct a deluded conspiracy theory.

Their conspiracy hinges on the assumption James Hird is a deranged psychopath willing to throw away all he has achieved and could still achieve in football, his reputation and millions of dollars. Willing to sacrifice all this for the petty notion of revenge which would be purely symbolic as the target in the “revenge” theory is already expected to abandon his post in the near future.

It is absurd. Men in white coats await anyone seriously postulating such a defence. Disturbingly, these lunatics are in positions of power and wealth.

The re-emergence of the case is the final nail in the AFL’s version of events. No thinking person can still accept the established narrative. Luckily for the AFL and it’s shills, their target audience – sports fans – aren’t known for their willingness to exercise their grey matter.

Hopefully enough of the public, and the small portion of the media still focused on the truth, maintain their interest and pursue the case long enough to finally see the facts on the table.

A monumental pay off awaits the true journalist who exposes the truth. They’ll receive all the professional accolades, and an unprecedented boost to their reputation, career and personal finances. And as a happy bonus, it will destroy their bitter rivals in the process.

Furthermore, there is no reason to stop. At this stage, any attempt to alienate or excommunicate a journalist over these matters would be seen for what it is: a heavy-handed abuse of power.

In the end, the AFL’s assumed power is worthless. It amounts to little more than a weak bluff. If they follow through with their threats, they create a powerful enemy. The old adage of “never pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrel” would see a complete role reversal.

It appears as though this trajectory may have already been set in place. Their self-destruction has begun. The corrupt regime is on the decline.

When the truth comes out, it will be devastating to the AFL, and hopefully the fallout will be expansive enough to effect meaningful change and not simply depose one dictator and install another.

The only way forward is a complete overhaul of the AFL commission. The problems are not limited to the CEO, or his number two and expected successor. They both enjoy the full support of the commission who all share the same dedication to coercion and obscurantism.

An independent commission must remain – the league faced implosion prior to its establishment – but it cannot be an assembly of industry appointed officials with a track record of endorsing corruption. There needs to be a complete spill.

It is time the public voted for their representatives. A full overhaul would also present an opportunity to address the league’s CEO’s remuneration. To have an official in a not-for-profit organisation earning several times the Prime Minister of the country is an absurdity and a waste of resources that could be better spent growing the game, improving the standard of umpiring or the Match Review Panel, repairing their severely damaged public image, or better yet, correcting their own corporate governance issues responsible for the scandals which are growing in both severity and frequency.

* The ACC’s assessment of innocence is more incriminating than a judgement sustaining the release of privileged information, as it proves Demetriou had prior knowledge of the supplements program and was, as is the standard practice, attempting a cover-up. If it is accepted that misdeeds took place, then the AFL was complicit by its own inaction, and by their own determination regarding corporate governance there should be severe sanctions to individuals at every level of their own organisation. The AFL indirectly conceded its lack of governance when it changed its rules and procedures regarding supplement use. Even more disturbingly, it directly admitted the very same thing in clear, plain language on the public record, yet nobody sees fit to apply the governance argument to the governing body which has admittedly, in actions and words, failed it’s clubs and athletes.

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  1. #1 by Ellie G on May 5, 2016 - 12:54 pm

    Great article. We need the truth to finally be told in order to ensure fairness is applied to everyone involved in the AFL


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