This is a wake-up call Gillon McLachlan cannot ignore

0 3

It was April 2014 when Brian Cook, a candidate for the top AFL job that ultimately went to Gillon McLachlan, sold to the commission his vision for an ethical, values-driven competition, similar to the one he helped build at Geelong.

Cook pointed out to the Mike Fitzpatrick-chaired board that the AFL had no meaningful mission statement and that he would drive a Leading Teams-style approach, setting an example of how to correctly run a sporting business.

AFL plays of the round 17

Could Essendon’s Joe Daniher’s spectacular screamer be mark of the year?

Rather than simply punishing clubs and individuals for breaking rules and codes, the game’s governors needed to drive deeper, implementing a shared outlook aimed at preventing indiscretions and scandals as much as tackling them.

But the majority of the commission didn’t like being lectured. They had no time for Cook’s stated view that the AFL was a good organisation which could become a great one should it look more closely at is own values. They mostly regarded Cook’s analysis as inappropriately timed and not constructive, coming – as it did – during a presentation for the top job.

One commissioner, now departed, interrupted Cook’s presentation to tell him that this was not the time for such analysis. After the Geelong CEO left the room, the board’s then powerbroker Bill Kelty was openly dismissive. McLachlan, the next candidate and clearly the lay-down misere for the role, presented next with what was later described as a brilliant Powerpoint and verbal presentation.

You have to wonder what might have been had the commission actually taken more notice of Cook’s prophecies — rather than scoff or sweep them aside — even as they handed the job to the younger, more favoured McLachlan.

Because whichever way you look at it after the carnage at the game’s headquarters last week, the AFL’s culture has been exposed in a manner that McLachlan and his team for too long could not or would not see. And it was not as though there weren’t warning signs or repeat offenders. 

Even allowing for how shattered the AFL boss was at having to end the AFL careers of two of his most senior lieutenants, it was strange how McLachlan’s strength of conviction last Friday had evaporated by Saturday.

This might sound harsh given the thicket of relationships and friendships he was forced to navigate in the lead up to his round of radio interviews at the MCG before the Geelong-Hawthorn game, but the AFL chief executive on Saturday was too often rattled and uncomfortable. He was vague on the question of whether the competition required a more formal ethical code. 

Initially he said such regulation was too difficult and later he said he might consider it. Clearly working to keep a lid on his emotions, McLachlan was criticised by one commentator for avoiding eye contact. He distanced himself from the human resources process but it still seems strange that these in-house affairs were first raised by the media six weeks ago and nothing happened until last week.

What happened in between was a series of denials, mistruths and some ill-advised media bashing from the game’s headquarters, which seems to be all the rage this season. By Friday, the AFL was still trying to control the reporting of the story. 

The game’s bosses would do well to remember even though they should attempt to protect the innocent victims in all of this, it was their executives who caused this scandal and heartbreak. Bullying the messenger is just another symptom of their culture, which remains a work in progress.

Either way you have to hope for McLachlan’s sake that reports of a third executive “problem” will evaporate because the male in question is single, or no longer officially married, or that the transgression occurred too long ago and in another place. Because a third scandal would cripple his authority.

McLachlan retired after the radio rounds on Saturday to the safer surrounds of Toorak Park where his Uni Blues were taking on Simon Lethlean’s Old Xaverians. He placed a brotherly arm around Lethlean when the two met at the game and has not ruled out Lethlean’s return to the AFL.

He flew to France for a short holiday on Saturday night leaving the game’s company secretary and the new chairman of Etihad Stadium, Ray Gunston, in charge. It was Gunston too who stepped up to the plate at Essendon when Ian Robson resigned as CEO when that club was in crisis.

To say the competition bosses are currently stretched would be an understatement, not only due to four recent departures – three in scandal. Given how the CBA negotiations dragged on, Gunston is working overtime to complete new stadium agreements with the frustrated and, in some cases, disenchanted Docklands clubs who were promised they would be substantially better off when the league owned the ground.

The eight clubs waiting to learn if they will earn AFL Women’s licences for 2019 have been told they will have to wait a little longer due to the current head office turmoil and McLachlan now faces a series of crucial senior appointments that must succeed, including a new boss for the women’s league. 

So this is a line in the sand moment for the AFL CEO. Surely the penny has dropped that cultural change requires a greater commitment than he or his senior team have shown in the past. He argued that by forcing the departures of Lethlean and Richard Simkiss he has shown that commitment. The indications are that his new chairman, Richard Goyder, has stepped up to the plate as mentor with a more progressive set of hands-on values than his predecessor Mike Fitzpatrick.

Sarah Fair, the AFL’s HR executive, has reportedly shown some strength in investigating this complex set of affairs in which one man brought about the other’s undoing because McLachlan, ending one career, had to terminate both.

But the fact remains that she is the fourth woman to head that department in a little over a decade and the previous three have left the AFL disenchanted and, in some cases, discredited. Now she must help lead the search for a new head of football, commercial operations, integrity as well as a new diversity manager to replace Ali Fahour.

There have been other internal issues too. Not only did Fahour leave the organisation in disgrace but he reportedly previously refused at times to report to Tanya Hosch, the Adelaide-based AFL executive overseeing inclusion and social policy. And still after 18 months of bureaucratic confusion, the AFL has not yet outlined its promised respect and responsibility policy.

Lethlean and Simkiss were two of McLachlan’s most recent promotions. Both earned big money and took those promotions knowing they had issues and Lethlean had been entrusted with overseeing the historic AFL Women’s.

Even though the launch of that league has been seen as a stunning success, it speaks to the AFL’s values – or lack thereof – that his indiscretion took place given his powerful role. No wonder it took Lethlean some days to see that he had to go given his standing and popularity within the organisation.

For too long the AFL has lived in denial regarding its lack of leadership in cultural areas such as problem gambling and the internal disenchantment of too many women employees. It is an indictment that some clubs are well ahead in these areas while the AFL acts more like a government in self-protection mode – more obsessed by how things look than how they really are.

McLachlan has too many runs on the board to let this current crisis fully undermine him, but he has been undermined. Now his leadership has received a wake-up call he cannot ignore.

Source link

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.