A cowardly, rubbish, gutless and logic-defying decision

In 1964, the committee commissioned by US President Lyndon Johnson into the 1963 assasination of President John F Kennedy, which came to be known as the Warren Commission, presented its findings that Lee Harvey Oswald (and Jack Ruby) acted alone. The theory of the second gunman, the ‘grassy knoll’ and any wider conspiracies were dismissed.

Since then, the Warren Commission has been held to ridicule in many sectors of the US and international community as being either naive or a conspiracy in itself. There were US comedians at the time who would simply read exerpts from the report as their act, so much was the finding seen as bizarre, almost comedic and certainly wrong.

Whilst any comparison of sport to death and tragedy is trivial and sensationalism, it is a reasonable link to say that the announcement of the outcomes of the long investigation by the AFL into the Melbourne tanking issue of 2009 is our Warren Commission.

The summary of the findings seems to be that: Melbourne didn’t do it, but they have been fined anyway; there were no deliberate actions taken to lose but the person responsible for coaching the club at the time is suspended; and that a bloke in charge made a silly comment and so loses his ability to act in his role for 12 months.

To say this is a travesty of justice is too much. In simpler terms, it just adds a whole lot more levels of stupid to the situation.

There will be all sorts of reasons given by people as to why the AFL copped out on this. Either the AFL didn’t want to admit this happened and be exposed to chasing other clubs who may have done the same thing in previous years. Or that they were worried by the spectre of gamblers who wished to pursue the retrieval of monies bet on games that weren’t legit. Or that having had a CEO, (interestingly absent from the proceeding throughout) deny in the strongest terms that it ever occurred, and then claim that anyone who was found guilty would be out of footy forever, be seen to be out of touch with his own rules, organisation and consituents, was beyond the pale.

For whatever reason you choose as to why the AFL acted the way they did, including economic realism and rationalism, it is simply one of the most baffling decisions ever taken by this organisation, which seems to be lurching from one reactive scandal to another.

Despite salary cap dodging, drugs, betting on games or the quiet departure of three senoir executives from the organisation in recent months, this decison simply ranks as the poorest and most gutless we have seen.

This is not Melbourne bashing, as many Dees supporters insisted and supported their club was tanking and are still happy to admit the club did set out to lose.

I do not wish to see a club that has worked hard to get itself back in the black punished. However, in my (admittedly limited) legal knowledge, “everyone else was doing it” is not a legitimate legal defense to breaking the law.

I attended the 2009 Richmond vs Melbourne game where a kick after the siren won the game for the Tigers and I have never heard so much laughing from supporters of both sides during a game. Melbourne supporters, bizarre and unacceptable as it was, actively supported a loss.

And before anyone turns this into a partisan supporter based argument, I absolutely admit that Terry Wallace is on the record as Richmond coach in saying he didn’t do anything to win a particular game during his tenure, that led to draft picks.

And for anyone to say that Carlton didn’t do it is simply living in fairyland.

But that’s not the point though as to who did it and who didn’t. The AFL chose to pursue one club in one season, and their findings would by any reasonable measure be found to be laughably short of what is required by a controlling organisation and ruling body.

In light of seemingly clear evidence (and the usual battening down of the hatches and clamming up that often happens when men in sport are confronted by their misdeeds), the AFL have chosen to publically hold themselves to ridicule.

How does someone be barred from acting in their chosen profession when the club they were responsible for has been found not to have acted improperly. And when that coach has already admitted upon his departure he did what he could for the betterment of the club in the long term? Bailey is the patsy in this saga, and his reputation besmirched.

The realist in me shouldn’t be surprised.The conspiracy theorist in me definitely isn’t.

But the football fan in me is sad, disappointed and frustated.

This is a rubbish and cowardly decision that defies all logic and cannot be justified. Worse, it treats its customers like idiots.

I can only hope that the $500K fine is put to good use at AFL House.

Either run some governance and ethics training or put it into grass roots Auskick and local footy. Because they are the people ignored by decisions likes this.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Well said, Sean.

    A sad, sad day for the AFL. A shameful day.

    The AFL cannot ever again talk of the integrity of the game. It has poured it down the toilet.

    The so-called findings are an insult to the game and everyone who plays and love it. And the press conference yesty was beyond comical.

    The game at the top level may never be the same.

    I don’t know if i will ever believe completely again.

    All those involved should do the right thing by the game the public and go. Just go.

  2. Ben Footner says

    As an Adelaide supporter I am livid that Dean Bailey has been suspended from his role with us despite Melbourne being found not guilty of tanking. I can’t work that out to be honest.

  3. Well said on a number of fronts Sean. And I admire your attempt to not make it a partisan argument.

    But I take issue with a few comments, one of which that there was ‘clear evidence’ of tanking. How on earth can there be clear evidence of something if the charge isn’t clearly defined and understood. Even Gillon McLachlan admitted he doesn’t know what the definition of tanking is.

    I agree wholeheartedly though that the whole thing has been a farce. Without a clear terms of reference and defined charge this was always going to be the case and the investigation should not have been launched at all without them.

    I’m particularly not happy about a club, my club, being scapegoated for a problem the AFL itself created and of which there are dozens of other examples of it occurring. As you said, Terry Wallace actually admitted to it but no investigation was launched. But the Dees are an easy target, particularly seeing the club was so divided in 2009, so let’s get stuck in.

    You also mentioned the 2009 Demons v Tigers game. But again, how can a team that was actually in front when the siren sounded be trying to lose? You say Dees supporters were happy at the end result but how is that evidence of the team and its players trying to lose? And what about the selective leaking of info to certain journalists throughout the investigation when the investigation was meant to be confidential?

    Yep, I agree the whole sorry saga has been rubbish and logic-defying but for slightly different reasons than you. But I do agree that Bailey and Connolly have been set up as the patsys and the integrity of the game and its governing body are in tatters.

  4. Ben Footner says

    Whether tanking or not, it was all facilitated by the AFL’s flawed priority pick system. To blame anyone but themselves for it is pretty ridiculous really.

  5. Peter Schumacher says

    Ben, I hate to take issue with you on anything but if I were a Crows supporter I would be livid about the whole administration there after the Tippet saga came to light and having Bailey with the club after his record at Melbourne would just make me wonder what on earth was going on. I know that this comment is “off song” in terms of the subject matter of this discussion but could not refrain from making it!

  6. Ben Footner says

    Not at all mate, take issue with me when ever you like. lol

    I am livid about the Tippett saga don’t worry about that Peter. It was very difficult to hand over the membership money this year.

    Not in bringing Bailey to the club though, I don’t see the two as being related. I believe he is an excellent coach who will continue to be of great assistance to Sanderson going to the future. I think in this Melbourne case he is the unfortunate vicitim of circumstance and the need for the AFL to pin a scapegoat.

  7. Simon

    I think the fact that Melb lost with a kick after the siren was more a function of Richmond’s ability at the time, that even a club (possibly) not doing their best were still in front of us.

    I agree that the League set this up to happen through their lack of foresight with the draft and are now compromised.

    But the penalties are inconsistent. They are either guilty or not guilty, but the league’s dealmakers, to avoid legal issues I imagine, protect the brand and increase their own revenue, fine them and find them not guilty?

    Melbourne are now placed now in a worse situation, being ecxonerated due to no one being able to define what it is they were accussed of, whilst still being financially severly penalised?!

    Whether we agree that Melbourne did it or not, the outcomes I think we can agree are farcical.

    To Ben’s comments, for all Adelaide’s issues last year, this is a situation where we can agree they are suffering as an innocent party.

    And whilst I think Connolly a dill, he gets 12 montsh for thinking of doing something that didn’t occur?

    Give. Me. A. BREAK


  8. No worries Sean. As I said, we’re in general agreement about it being farce and a joke but just coming at it from a different point of view I guess.

    Good point about Melb’s current predicament in being cleared of the crime they were charged with, however ambigious it is, but still being forced to defend itself (and supporters like me) because the investigation was so poorly thought out and implemented that in most people’s eyes tanking did take place and the punishments are out of the whack with the ruling.

    And yes Ben, Adelaide definitely an innocent victim of this as well in being denied Bailey for something that had nothing to do with the club. The Tippett affair not so much.

  9. I think the AFL tanked this investigation, that is assuming my definition of tanking is acceptable – deliberately losing to win.

  10. Ben et al,
    I think the AFL realised that their initial penalty for the Crows in the Tippett affair was way too lenient. So when they got the chance for a second crack at them via the Bailey back door, they added an extra whack onto his penalty.

    I am hopeful that my reasonsing is so ridiculous, that I will soon be offered a senior AFL management position on $500K + per annum.

    Yours in expectation,
    Peter B

  11. If you can say “I expected more from the AFL” with a straight face, you might just be able to make a good living working for them.

  12. John weldon says

    Well written piece. I especially like the line about the AFL treating supporters like idiots. It’s so true. There’s little left in terms of integrity for the game to hang its hat on. And now they’ve turned on themselves singling out the weakest club and using them as a scape goat in order to wriggle out of making a hard decision or admitting that it was their ridiculous draft system that caused this mess. I used to love this game now I’m nothing more than embarrassed by it.

  13. lee donovan says

    Once again the AFL have missed a golden opportunity to reduce the number of clubs in Melbourne. Let’s hope they don’t miss the boat with Essendon.

  14. So, what should the penalty have been (presuming that we at least agree that Melbourne weren’t trying their hardest to win)?

    Sad to hear that you’re embarrassed by the game, John. I’m chafing at the bit for round one, as always.

  15. The game’s pretty good I reckon John. Don’t confuse Aussie Rules with AFL.
    The coverage and stewardship are bloody ordinary.
    Other sports suffer likewise.

  16. Imagine if you were a billion-dollar company and your divisions/branches/ whatever are encouraged to perform poorly so that they could have first crack at the new talent pool available.
    When the other divisions , the ones that didn’t perform poorly enough,complain, you launch a half-baked investigation into what went on.
    You then take money from the division that did perform badly and make two highly paid executives sit at their desks for a year and do nothing.
    Roll on the shareholders meeting

  17. Barkly St End says

    I’m going to offer a dissenting voice.

    The AFL had evidence of a meeting where losing a game to chase draft picks was openly discussed – it was incumbent on the AFL to investigate that, and two coaches were found guilty of an act prejudicial to the interests of the game from that one meeting.

    But equally, they found that the Executive had not been involved in instructing the coaches of acting in that way, nor had the players been linked in any way to what was discussed. At no stage has anyone suggested the players weren’t doing their best to win the game.

    In those circumstances – how can a charge of deliberately losing a game be sustained?

    I don’t think it can be.

  18. Here’s the press conference Demetriou needed to hold when the dumped the priority picks…

    “The AFL acknowledges that the draft system it established in regards to priority picks was flawed in that it created an environment where clubs where perceived as playing poorly to secure such picks.

    “This lead to the perception of what some people refer to as ‘tanking’. As this claim is one that is nebulous therefore difficult legally prove, we believe it is in the best interests of the AFL to amend the draft system and abolish priority picks, rather than retrospectively punish clubs for a problem that was largely the AFL’s doing.”

    * * *

    Having dealt with the AFL over the Lions logo fiasco, I’m well aware that such are the egos in that place, that was never going to happen…

  19. Barkly St End says

    I agree that it may have been best if the press conference had gone along the line expressed by Litza.

    One question: aren’t priority picks now abolished?

  20. BSE

    As I understand it, priority picks still exist but the inclusion of the two expansion sides and the large number of early picks they get mean that the priority picks are now lower down the order than 1 and 2, so their value dimisnished, compared to Scully/Trengove.

    In relation to your earlier dissenting points, you make a valid case.

    However, and I would need someone with a greater understanding of the law to help me, if I think about committing a crime, and even if my evil/dumb henchman set in place moves for this to occur, but we both didn’t go through with it, have I done something wrong (not morally but actually)

    Issue: I need money
    Fact: Banks have money
    Solution: Steal money from a bank
    Plan: My No. 2 gets a car ready, we scout the bank and we think about robbing it
    Reality; We do not proceed
    Outcome: According to the AFl, I am guilty

    Connolly articulated what others knew, that you could do better long term by losing short term. His crime seems to be that he spoke it out loud, like saying Voldemort. Bailey said, I better go along with that, but nothing according to the AFL ever eventuated. So why the punishment.

    My issue is, having said Bailey and Connolly did something against the nature of the game, as employees of the Club and that it simply isn’t possible to beleive that they were the only two who thought it or said it, the club must take responsibility for it (which it seems the AFL admits by fining the as employees) but also the AFL is duty bound to find the club guilty.

    If you can’t define a crime, how can you find someone guilty of committing it.

    The AFl have adopted the half pregnant approach. Or, in simple terms, you didn’t do it and don’t ever do it again


  21. Ben Footner says

    ‘like saying Voldemort’. LOL. Too true.

    Loving your work Sean.

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