AFL Chairman Fitzpatrick Retires

Lisa Albergo's picture

by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago 

After over 20 years of service with the AFL Commission, Mike Fitzpatrick has announced his retirement. He has been Commission chairman for over 10 years and a member of the Commission since 2003 after an illustrious career with Carlton. He said with the Western Bulldogs' premiership, the introduction of the AFLW and the early purchase of Etihad Stadium, it was the right time to step aside. He said the highlight and greatest achievement of his tenure was the six-year $2.5 billion broadcast deal signed last year, "The size of it and the scale of it and what it does for the code is a great achievement."

Of the expansion teams he said that when he joined the Commission, there was a "comfortable group" dominating the southern states and that the only way to ensure the game could hold its place as the primary code was to introduce more teams in the northern states. He pointed out that, while there was still a way to go, the success of GWS in 2016 and their membership growth showed they were "on the right track" but the AFL had to  work hard to continue to make the game attractive with so much competition from rival sporting codes which want to unseat Australian Football as the top code. 

Fitzpatrick began his career with Subiaco in the WAFL, making his debut at the age of 17 in 1970 and played 93 games. He won Subiaco's best and fairest award in 1973 and again in 1974 and was a member of Subiaco's premiership in 1973. He joined Carlton in 1975 and played all 24 games in his first season, after which he won a Rhodes Scholarship and traveled to England to study. He returned Carlton to play the last 12 games of the 1976 season. He missed the entire 1977 season and played only 2 games in 1978 before returning to play full-time in 1979. He had an outstanding season as well as an excellent finals series. The Blues won the premiership and he won the club best and fairest award. A bitter internal board battle at the end of the year saw captain-coach Alex Jesaulenko depart the club and Fitzpattrick is named captain and finds himself as the main ruckman. Despite giving away height and weight to many opponents, Fitzpatrick was a fierce competitor who loved the big games.

He worked tirelessly in the 1981 Grand Final to help the Blues to a 20-point win over Collingwood and was unlucky not to win the Norm Smith Medal. IN the 1982 Grand Final win over Richmond, he moved between the ruck and forward line and kicked two goals before leaving the ground with an ankle injury. Injuries restricted him in 1983 and he retired at the end of the season. After his retirement as a player, he worked as an adviser to Victorian premier John Cain and called matches for the ABC before moving to New York to work for investment banks including Merrill Lynch. He returned to Australia in the late 1980s and joined Carlton's board in 1989, a position he held until 1995. During this time, he established his own financial management company but sold most of his interest in the company to Westpac Bank in 2002 before joining the AFL Commission in 2003. He was asked to run for president of Carlton, but turned down the offer. In 2007, he replaced long-serving chairman Ron Evans.

Under his leadership as chairman the AFL has introduced Gold Coast and the GWS, undertaken the building and renovation of stadiums and club bases including Adelaide Oval, Perth Stadium, Metricon Stadium, MCG, SCG, the Gabba and Simonds Stadium, the establishment of the AFLW a year ahead of schedule, increased participation since 2007, record broadcast deals, record highs in clubs' memberships, the creation of AFL Media, the adoption of all recommendations of the AFL Indigenous Advisory Council and a commitment to appoint an indigenous commissioner by the end of 2018, development of the Respect and Responsibility policy, increase in resources and policies governing integrity and doping. He said combating doping would continue to be a major challenge.

The one thing Fitzpatrick would like to see changed is the number of interchange rotations. If he had his way, it would have been completely eliminated, but he stil would like to see it capped at 30-40. That is his only regret, that he could not fix the interchange problem. He quipped that even a chairman or CEO doesn't' always get what they want.  He also mentioned a botched effort to relocate a team to Tasmania in 2010 and blames the failure on Tasmanian politics, saying the difficulty was about where the team would play - north or south in Tasmania.

With all the positive achievements, the one negative which will hang over his tenure will be the Essendon saga, but he says he is comfortable with the way the AFL dealt with it and does not see it as a lowlight but rather something the league had to deal with

AFL CEO Gil McLachlan described Fitzpatrick as a mentor and friend whose legacies are his love of the game and his backing of the commissioners. Fitzpatrick's last official commission meeting will be in mid-March.

He will be replaced by commissioner Richard Goyder, who has been with the commission since 2012. Goyder, who lives in WA, spent five years on Fremantle's board and is a well-respected businessman. Goyder said, "Mike has cemented his place in the history of our game as a premiership captain, Carlton legend, and outstanding administrator. I take over as Chairman with the competition in a very strong position, and I look forward to delivering for our fans, clubs, players and the community to grow and protect the game that so many Australians love." Fitzpatrick said the fact that Goyder had never played league football was good and described his successor as very thorough, organized and very committed to the game. Goyder will assume his duties in early April.

Goyder, who is a fan of both East Perth and Carlton, has retired from his position as managing director of Wesfarmers, a huge and diversified conglomerate. It began as a farmers cooperative in 1914 and now is one of Australia's largest companies whose operations cover supermarkets, liquor, hotels and convenience stores; home improvement; office supplies; department stores; and an industrial division with businesses in chemicals, energy and fertilizers, industrial and safety products and coal.

Goyder graduated with a commerce degree from the University of Western Australia and started his career with a pipe-making company and joined Wesfarmers in 1993. He joined the company board in 2002 and became managing director in 2005. IN 2007, he oversaw the company's purchase of supermarket chain Coles.  Goyder also has a son who plays for Claremont in the WAFL. Goyder was made an Officer of Australia in 2013 for his business service and his promotion of corporate involvement in the arts and indigenous programs. He worked with the Business Council of Australia and was a vocal supporter of economic reform. Some thought he might even go into politics but he rejected the notion, saying he could make better contributions to the country as a businessman.

Source: theage.com.au, afl.com.au, wesfarmers.com.au

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