So what exactly is the AFL?

Melbourne commercial barrister David Forbes seeks answers to some key questions about the AFL. What is the AFL exactly? What exactly is an AFL Commissioner? Who ultimately controls the AFL? Do its members have any say? Does the AFL pay income tax on those mega profits?

He addresses these mysteries in his May 9 blog post.

Copyright David Forbes.




  1. The Wrap. says

    So, if you’re right David, the ASADA/EFC scandal is a minor blemish, and the real scandal is the on-going smoke screen that the AFL – who ever they may be – has been laying to cover their autocratic activities and arbitrary distribution of funds? Including grossly inflated salaries and luxury travel expenses? Surely this raises a few questions.

    For instance, who’s going to take them on?

    If it’s the ATO, and they win their case, how do they recover any unpaid tax?

    Footy has often been referred to as the glue that holds our culture together, is the AFL, like the Roman Catholic Church, an etherial entity, and as such beyond the laws of mortal man?

    And considering the tribal passion invested by the punters, would any attack – financial or otherwise – be taken as an attack on the Nation of Tribes.

    More Power To The People.

  2. Neil Belford says

    Whatever happens – footy will remain. If it all falls in a smouldering heap for a year or two we might even be able to build a sensible national competition out of the wreckage.

    Interesting to see if David Forbes is correct. No idea about the rationale in his blog wrt to the tax law but if it is sound then at the very least how can the mainstream media now avoid some serious investigative journalism. It will be very interesting to see – don’t hold much hope for the commercial media given their allegiances but this would have to be a test to see if our ABC dollars are well spent.

    And as for us out here in the tribes – one thing at least is established in the analysis – we have no representation at any level in the AFL.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Workcover ?

    Restraint of Trade ?

    house of cards…

  4. The AFL absolve themselves of responsibility for much of what ails the tribes Neil by saying the clubs represent the fans interests. But as Forbes touched on, very few so-called members of clubs are actually able to vote on their club’s hierarchy or direction.

    That’s part of the reason why the AFL Fans Association was established last December as unlike the players, coaches or clubs, supporters’ interests have no representation.

    Interesting times ahead.

  5. Indian Pacific (the “parent” of West Coast Eagles,)when established for the purpose of creating and fielding a VFL team,in 1986, had many more shareholders,who were mostly bought out following a revision of some sort after the AFL was brought into existence

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I tipped this …

  7. Dave Brown says

    And to top it all off, the tax payer (well the ones in SA anyway) gift these non tax paying businesses a $400 million stadium which they then go on to complain about not making enough money from. Time for talking to the taxman about football!

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    On the other hand, a warning from Billy:

    The temptation
    To take the precious things we have apart
    To see how they work
    Must be resisted for they never fit together again

  9. MemCache says

    Neat article

    Always wondered how the AFL was structured. I knew West Coast were a company and laughed whenever I saw their rookies players selling raffle tickets in Subi. Can my company run a raffle for profit? Having run a few sporting raffles in the past I would be interested to see what they wrote in their application for a raffle permit.

  10. Tom Martin says

    Incisive and thought-provoking piece.

    I’m relatively neutral towards the AFL as an organisation. But if the ATO and ASIC are turning a blind eye to this, it’s a derogation of their role. Absent some specific exclusion, the laws of the land should apply to the AFL like any other public company. National pastime notwithstanding, it’s an affront to the rule of law to do otherwise.

    Is David the first to identify and raise these issues? If not, shame on the footy media for not taking up the cudgels earlier. If so, will anyone pick it up now? Where will it end? Will David Forbes go down in history as that barrister bloke who wrote the blawg that bumped off the AFL?

    There’s a smoke-filled pokie room in hell reserved for all Collingwood supporters, David. Magpie-loving lawyers are made to empty the ashtrays. May as well make a bit of noise while you’re upstairs!

  11. Great article this. But is anyone going to investigate the AFL’s corporate structure and taxation obligations? I very much doubt it. Tony and Joe aren’t interested in iconoclasm; they’d rather slug pensioners and the unemployed.

  12. Try a 900 million dollar stadium in Perth as a gift from the citizens of WA to the AFL*.
    For twenty games,plus finals, a year and assorted concerts. And to James Packer and Crown.Watch your team get rolled and go and and get rolled next door
    The Eagles can’t train on it so they have to build two new ovals at Lathlain Park! Of course they can afford it.
    *I beg your pardon Colin,part of that amount is what the company that builds it will spend on running it for twenty years, or so we are led to believe.

  13. My takeaway from this remarkably argued dissertation is that football clubs are tax exempt, churches are tax exempt, therefore football is a religion. That long debated topic has finally been put to rest.

  14. Nice work David,

    To supplement David’s analysis, and to fill some gaps in the analysis, you might like to read this:

    Macdonald, Robert D. and Ramsay, Ian, Constitutional Voting Rules of Australian National Sporting Organisations: Comparative Analysis and Principles of Constitutional Design (March 28, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

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