We Sure Do Miss You Andrew! Not!

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Two years ago, AFANA published an editorial concerning the double talk about international development emanating from AFL executives. (See Confusion or Deception: Mixed Messages from AFL) A year ago, Mr. Demetriou retired from his post as CEO of the AFL. He's mostly been out of the spotlight since but popped up recently to offer his view of the future of the game (Aussie Rules on brink of going global: Demetriou). It seems that a year away has cleared up his foggy lenses. Now he is saying the game is on the brink of going global. If that surprises you, you can only imagine our amusement.

We're not amused because we disagree but rather at that sheer hubris required to now decide (after he might have had a greater impact during his time as CEO), that he's found faith in international development. Our point two years ago was that we were tired of the mixed messages from the AFL. We were stumped as to the real importance and priority at the AFL in developing the game internationally and the support that should be given to those of us on the ground doing the real work. It also distressed us that the AFL would tell us on one hand how much they appreciated our efforts but then not give us the support fully required. How the messages being given to those outside Australia could be seen as condescending and disrespectful when the messages being given to those inside Australia was that the global thing was just window dressing.

Now, a year out of office he feels the need to tell the Western Australia Chamber of Minerals and Energy that: "I think the globalisation of the game will eventually happen, ...The concept of a team being based elsewhere is not foreign. It's not beyond the realms of possibility and someone with great commitment and leadership will make that happen." Clearly, he was not that someone. We're tempted to wonder at what point he realized that the globalization would happen. The evidence he felt that way prior to last year was certainly scarce.

He also quoted as saying: "There wouldn't be a year that we don't send someone over to the NFL to learn." We're quite confident that is true but it is also not entirely a good thing. The NFL is in a small group (maybe a group of 2) sports bodies worldwide that have the luxury of spending lots of money and getting it wrong. Moreover, they are in a sports market more than 30 times the size of Australia. There are certainly lessons to be learned from the NFL. There are also badly misleading examples. (We're not even referring here to the recent NFL player misbehavior.) The fact is that much of what the NFL does is simply not applicable to the AFL and international development may be one such area.

The last quote of interest is this: "We sat there saying to ourselves, 'When the world is contracting, we're debt-free, we're prepared for this, now is the time to put our foot on the pedal', ...That shows a lot of leadership and courage. We thought that while all the other sports were going through their difficult patch, it wasn't a matter of expanding the competition, it wasn't a matter of what the risks were - it was about if we didn't do something, that would have been our greatest risk." Perhaps this is out of context but we're at a loss to understand what he could mean here. There is little evidence that anything he did relative to taking the AFL international could possibly be seen as the greatest risk to the AFL. Yes, during his time as CEO, progress was made. The AFL did finally assign people to deal with international leagues and sports bodies such as AFANA. That wasn't risky and the individuals so assigned were never given generous budgets. AFANA did not and has not seen that. We've also had precious little direct communication from anyone in upper management at the AFL. (For the record, neither the AFL nor Andrew Demetriou ever responded to our editorial.)

All we can do is once again shake our heads and write this off as another self-serving and contradictory message from Mr. Demetriou. We can hope the new CEO has a different view. Thus far, Gillon McLachlan has not given any indication he's prepared to go a different route but then he also hasn't given such publicly baffling statements on international development. We can applaud the conclusion made in WA by the ex-CEO, we can't applaud the timing or the implications.

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