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New voices needed to solve an old problem

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before. – Rahm Emmanuel

It appears Andrew Demitriou and the AFL have been listening to the advice of Emmanuel, using today’s Crime Commission announcement as a way to further extend their own power, rather than take the opportunity for reflection. It is a perfect example of why those currently in charge are not the ones we should trust to solve the problem.

In reading the report, one sentence stood out to me:

“This is facilitated by a lack of appropriate levels of due diligence by sporting clubs and sports governing bodies when entering into business arrangements.”

It doesn’t just point to individuals or clubs that use Performance and Image Enhancing drugs. It specifically mentions governing bodies. Any reasonable response to it would involve a serious consideration of the current operations of those governing bodies.

The NRL took that on board: it today announced its approach to the report, that it had engaged an external auditor to audit both the organization itself and each of the clubs. This independent group will provide its findings.

By contrast, the AFL has doubled-down on the very approach to the problem that led us here. Rather than taking a step back and reflecting on whether its current approach is effective or has the potential to be effective, it is simply extending its current approach. Its “Integrity Unit” will be expanded. The very “Integrity Unit” that was founded in 2008, yet somehow didn’t see today’s revelations coming.

Rather than saying: “we are employing independent experts to come in, audit us, our processes, and ALL AFL clubs, and provide and independent report”, the AFL have chosen to do it themselves. The person leading the investigation will, ultimately, be accountable to some of the very same people they’re reporting on. Demetriou and the Commission will not be held to account for presiding over an era of drug cheating- at least, not in the near future.

It’s a process designed to undermine Demetriou’s power and influence as little as possible.

It also further empowers the AFL to look into club employees. It allows them to investigate all off-field staff, the legality of which under Australian workplace law I’m quite intrigued by. But beyond the legality, I’m baffled as to why investigating the trainee who gets paid 20k a year to listen to Members complain about their seats could possibly be considered a good use of resources. It extends the AFL’s already overstretched reach without significant benefit.*

But far more than that, the AFL controlling the investigation ignores the way the AFL is part of the fundamental problem. Doping, homophobia, sexual violence and sexism, betting, match fixing: these are all consequences of the same fundamental culture: a culture that is predominantly white, male, straight, and “blokey”. It is a culture that prizes loyalty over integrity. It certainly isn’t everyone, but it’s many.

During the press conference today, Demetriou announced there would soon be a meeting of all club chairs, CEOs and heads of football departments. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single person in that group who is not a straight, white male.

What’s that got to do with doping? A surprising amount. It hints at the degree to which the culture is insular, self-selecting,and afraid of those outside a norm, a culture unwilling to seriously consider outside voices.

Today’s report was an indictment on the culture of Australian sport in general, and of the AFL in particular. The same old people won’t fix it. It’s time for someone new.

*Full disclosure, the author was once a lowly-paid employee of an AFL club for 18 months between 2007 and 2008. Beyond hellos in the lift, getting generic quotes for articles, and frequent conversations about whether Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton should win the Democratic nomination with one particular member of staff, her interaction with the football department was limited.

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