The pinnacle of Australian sport has come under renewed fire on the back of inside information regarding the seemingly malignant notion that is ‘tanking’. Apparently it’s been happening since the ’90s, but according to league boss Andrew Demetriou, it doesn’t exist at all.
Unfortunately, like the soccer leagues in Europe and beyond, the AFL is not nearly as fair as the surface may look.
It’s kind of contradictory, really.
There are schemes in place to eliminate cheating the salary cap, fines and suspensions for those players throwing an errant elbow, mistimed bump or tackle, and now pressure on the Melbourne Football Club to admit to ‘tanking’ so that they too can be punished.
But who hold the AFL accountable for their less-than-perfect way of running things?
It seems that Demetriou has the right idea, well, sort of.
On one hand he goes about his business in a professional and managed order. He steers his ship in the direction he wishes, and although it may not be something that the general public agree with, he is good at his job.
He hires the right people, save for perhaps Jeff Geischen, one of the most infuriating men ever grace the computer screen.
Adrian Anderson has a background in law, and he heads up the football operations department, with cronies that include former police officers. For investigation mishaps, and stamping out those who wish to extract the integrity from our beloved game, the right people are in place.
The AFL is drawing record crowds, record television rights and gate takings, and has just expanded to incorporate two new fledgling teams.
But for all the good the AFL has accomplished since Demetriou’s appointment, there are still facets of the game which leave me a little embarrassed as a football fan.
Demetriou will not admit that tanking is a problem which encompasses the AFL. Media are quick to quip to the boss that there is a possibility that it exits, however these efforts are thwarted every single time.
Unfortunately, it does exist. On Friday, media outlets reported that Melbourne’s football manager Chris Connolly threatened to sack those that hindered the club’s intent to secure less wins to achieve a better placing in the 2009 draft.
An investigation is now under-way, and unfortunately, if found guilty, Melbourne are in serious trouble- not that they already aren’t. Some are calling for them to be eliminated from the competition. Melbourne may not survive. Except Demetriou won’t let them- as a founding and original club of the game, he will not let them die. Unfairly, one perhaps could say that he would not fight so hard for a Port Adelaide, Fremantle or Western Bulldogs.
If we look back, one can’t help but wonder Connolly’s motivation. Perhaps knowledge that a team ‘bottoming out’ in 2009 would find it a lot harder to draft the right personnel from future drafts riddled by picks being ‘silver-plattered’ to the incoming Gold Coast and GWS teams.
It’s food for thought.
The concessions given to the two new franchises were far too extreme in their own right. Unfairly so. But it’s evident that Demetriou not only wants them to succeed he needs them to succeed- they’re his baby after all. He has given them considerable help, with draft picks, money and the fixture.
In fact, with the embarrassment that is the ‘fixture’ the Gold Coast team play their return matches against only bottom six teams. GWS play the Suns, Port and Melbourne twice, as well as cross town rivals Sydney. Although, if the AFL could take their eyes off the cash, they would probably not have ‘fixtured’ the reigning premiers to play the lowly Giants.
But it’s here that lies the greatest problem in the AFL. It’s the draw, or the fixture, as it has become to be known. Games aren’t pulled out of a hat nor randomly allotted, rather, put in place to maximise earnings, revenue and TV ratings.
Why would an organisation, trying to stop tanking teams like Melbourne from being able to ‘compromise the integrity of the competition’, compromise the integrity of the competition?
As far back as I can remember, Carlton have played Richmond, Collingwood and Essendon twice each year. It’s little wonder why. Ditto the “Derby”, “Showdown” and “Q-Clash”.
They are revenue, profile and ratings raisers, hyped clashes that turn heads and grab the attention of the towns.
As footy fans, sometimes we love it. Until, say, Collingwood are bottom of the ladder and the Bombers are spanking them twice a year, every year.
This doesn’t happen overseas. Nor should it.
In the spirit of the racing season, one could possibly label it the Melbourne Cup. It’s popular and people go to watch it, but it’s a handicapped event.
When lowly teams are playing lowly teams, when big name clubs are playing big name clubs, and when top four teams are playing top four teams as their ‘fixture filling’ matches, there is something wrong.
There is something wrong, when week-in, week-out, questions are asked regarding the form of umpires and the ‘weekly’ rule. It is morally weak and sends the wrong message to potential fans, as well as the players.
The Match Review Panel, too, is unsound in its interpretations and punishments. The Judd incident and then the Ziebell fiasco were prime examples from season 2012. Even Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley called for an overhaul of that system.
There is also something wrong, when investigations for taking are occurring when apparently tanking does not exist.
Of course, when the evidence spews forth, Demetriou will be out the front of AFL House, releasing a problem-masking statement that reads something along the lines of:
“We are glad that we could come to a conclusion which leaves the game in the best shape it has ever been. It is unfortunate for (team X) that this to have occurred to them, but we have dealt with this one-off situation in the manner a professional organisation does. No questions, and thank you for coming out today.”
With game-play at the level it is, as well as club workings, training facilities and fan and membership numbers, it’s a shame the inner sanctum is not up to the same standard.
Andrew Demetriou can have all the right things going on at an investigatory level, an exposure and marketing level, a financial level and at gate numbers; but if there are clandestine workings which, in essence, corrupt the game for exterior benefit, the AFL cannot be considered a fully professional or fair organisation.
Matt Walsh is a first-year journalism student at La Trobe University. Find his Twitter @MattWalshMedia