The Senseless Sanction: Swans’ Trading Ban

To equalise a situation means to give everyone the same rights or opportunities. In football terms, equalisation has been a hot topic for a number of years, is multi-layered, and is often controversial. A much publicised equalisation measure was the Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA), introduced by the AFL to the two Sydney clubs. The AFL believed that this payment was necessary due to the cost of living in Australia’s largest city. The AFL introduced the measure, and made it compulsory for all player contracts to include COLA. Every contract that contained COLA was approved by the AFL.

In the off-season of 2012/2013 the Swans acquired the services of Kurt Tippett from Adelaide. In the off-season of 2013/2014, the Swans pulled off a miraculous recruiting coup, signing Buddy Franklin to a $10 million, 9-year deal. Both contracts were approved by the AFL. However, due to the subsequent football community meltdown, a knee jerk reaction to remove this equalisation measure was enforced. The COLA was never used as payment to recruit an individual player. Every player on the Swans’ list received 9.8% of their entire contract as a Cost of Living Allowance. This allowance was paid for by the AFL. Again, this was compulsory.

The additions of Franklin and Tippett were made possible through outstanding list management, which has seen players such as Jude Bolton, Andrejs Everitt, Shane Mumford, Matt Spangher, Jesse White, Ryan O’Keefe, Nick Malceski, Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Mitch Morton, Marty Mattner, Jed Lamb and others leave the club over the past two to three seasons.

And so, with equalisation at the forefront of footy discussion, the AFL informed the Sydney Swans in March last year, that the COLA would indeed be phased out, so that by 2017, it would be disbanded and a new ‘Rental Assistance Scheme’ would be brought in for players earning under $300,000 a season. Whilst unhappy that COLA would be phased out, the Swans complied. The reward for their compliance? A two-year ban from trading.

On Friday night, prior to the Sydney Swans match against Collingwood, Swans chairman Andrew Pridham addressed a gathering of AFL constituents, Swans members and members of the wider football community. In his address, Pridham spoke of the injustice of the trade ban. This ban received little to no coverage at the time of being introduced. It is no coincidence that the majority of the football media exercised their right to remain silent on this issue, as much of the mainstream media throng has strong professional or personal connections to certain club administrators or AFL commissioners. Pridham described the ban as ‘the senseless sanction.’

Just last week, the AFL maintained their stance that the Swans knew of the trade ban prior to it’s announcement, and that the ban was enforced due to the Swans’ decision to ignore their ridiculous ultimatum: Stop paying COLA or we will impose the above-mentioned trade sanctions. Emma Quayle summed it up perfectly at the time, when stating that “The Swans can’t simply stop paying COLA, because the money is written into existing contracts they are obliged to fulfill, that the AFL would never let them not fulfill, and that the league is actually a third-party to”. However, in all of their wisdom, the AFL have decided that the Swans should be punished for complying with a rule that was established and enforced by you guessed it – themselves.

This sanction has never been publicly explained or addressed by the AFL with any conviction or substance. In his chairman’s address on Friday, Pridham dealt in the facts of the issue:

“On 16 July 2014 AFL General Council Andrew Dillon wrote to the Sydney Swans and GWS outlining the terms for the phasing out of COLA. Both the Swans and GWS were to be treated equally and there was no mention, nor had their ever been any mention, of a trade ban in the many meetings leading up to the 16 July letter.”

“On 28 July 2014 the AFL Commission met to approve the transition arrangements for the removal of COLA. At this meeting the executive recommendations were not accepted and it was decided, by the Commission, to add a two-year trade ban on the Sydney Swans, but not GWS.“

“On multiple occasions the AFL Chairman and some AFL Commissioners have told me directly that the reason Sydney has a trade ban has nothing to do with COLA. The explanation for the trade ban was that the Commission, and I quote,  “did not want to be embarrassed by the Swans, with another high-profile player signing following the signing in consecutive years of Kurt Tippett and Lance Franklin.”

“So there you have it. The Swans were banned from trading when other clubs continue to recruit top line players year after year – often from lowly positioned clubs. The trade ban was subsequently relaxed to only ban trading players paid above the average wage. This reinforces the fact that the ban is about stopping the Swans trading top end talent, not COLA. “

The Swans have never received an infraction notice. There has never been a rule breached. The trade ban was never discussed prior to the AFL Commission’s announcement of the sanction. So, if equalisation is for the advancement of the competition, and to provide all clubs with essentially the same opportunities, why is a club being punished for following the rules? This ban only ensures that a severe restraint of trade is occurring. The fact that a club is banned from improving its list for two years, while other prominent clubs continue to recruit high-profile players year-upon-year-upon-year-upon-year is quite frankly, bloody outrageous.

You can debate the appropriateness of COLA all you like, but disgracefully, this club has been punished for following the rules. The AFL Commission remain suspectly silent on the issue, as the Swans push for its removal. I believe this may just be the beginning of the fight, and may sanity eventually prevail. If it doesn’t, may this spur the Sydney Swans onto even bigger and better things. Gillon McLachlan’s self-proclaimed ‘you can’t have everything’ rule is placing the integrity of the competition in serious jeopardy.

About Joe Moore

Learned the art of the drop-punt from Derek Kickett as Jamie Lawson watched on. And thus, a Swan for life. @joedmoore1979


  1. Victor Leung says

    Couldn’t agree more. Swans have just been pushed to the corner and expected to roll over. Well Andrew Pridham sure rocked the boat with his pre-game speech last week. Surely something must be done to correct this, or will the AFL just stand firm and not admit they have done anything wrong. If it goes to court, the Swans have a solid argument for restraint of trade. Who’s got the best poker hand and poker face? Fight to the death! #gobloods #goswans

  2. I have a strong feeling that the fight has only just begun here Victor. I have every faith in our club’s fine administration doing their utmost to have the ban removed. It also affects every club and player looking for trades in and out of the Swans.

  3. Mark Lescai says

    A good article Joe. Sadly, the blinkers are on most of the Melbourne community about this issue. Do they know? Yes. Do they care? No. Most of them have felt for some time that the Swans have been the AFL’s golden child. Well let history give that answer. South Melbourne moved to Sydney in 1981/82 and what foundations were laid to make the club equal then? Be in no doubt that the competition is still influenced by the power base in Melbourne. New media rights at 2.5B. The Melbourne community are in awe of this deal and very happy to pocket the money. How much would the cheque be if the Sydney market wasn’t part of the deal. Time for the AFL to “grow some ….” and run a truly national competition and not bend over to the powerful minority in Melbourne or people with self business interests (i.e. ANZ stadium). Long may Gillon McBlatter, Mike Fitzmoney and Eddie McChins not rule. In the interest of fair competition, lodge the legal papers Swans.

  4. Thanks Mark. Great point about the TV rights deal. There’s no doubt that Sydney plays a major role there. Serious questions need to be asked of this current group of Commissioners. Surely.

  5. Bec. Blossomvictory says

    Bureaucracy is a pain on ass, the bigger it is the greater the pain. “How come can’t have all??!”, already can’t have all in a crab democracy, surely Can have all in a popular sport like ‘Footy’ … AFL is a place for innovation, leadership, elite standards but not a copy cat. Time to step up ALF, just like many good things you have done before, don’t slip back, allow fresh air to flow and great measures to renew!! Time is NOW, Enough Is ENOUGH. On ya Joe!!

  6. Thanks Bec. I like the thought of ‘allowing fresh air to flow’ through the doors of the AFL. I’m sure many people would.

  7. Peter Warrington says

    The ban never made sense to me and I never understood why the Swans didn’t challenge it in court.

    But then someone explained it was actually a negotiated part of the deal, to phase COLA out rather than have an immediate cessation, in return acceptig the “ban” on trading in stars.

    So the Swans may be crying crocodile tears (and it explains why they haven’t challenged it?

    I come in peace in saying this – see above about it making no sense – I just thought it was worth adding this potential “fact”, if true; and if not true, do not shoot the mostly friendly messenger please!

  8. Rob Harding says

    The Swans have been penalised for being to well run and obi ding by all rules. Their crime recruiting Franklin who the AFL expected to boost GWS. Sour grapes from AFL.

  9. Steve Pollack says

    Some thing is rotten in the State of Victoria. The power brokers plan to have the high profile Buddy as the pin up boy for GWS was ruined not by the evil Swans but by the player himself preferring the ‘ wrong’ team as far as the AFL were concerned. Revenge was swift via a TRADE BAN, which no one seems to be able to justify.

    I think it is time for the Swans to demand an end to the ban and an apology from the AFL. Also it is for the AFL to require one of their minions to accept the blame and the consequences of this unfair attack on the Swans. Someone needs to fall on their sword over this.

  10. Would never think of shooting such a friendly messenger Peter!

    The club have now basically admitted that they regret accepting the ban in the first place. From what I can gather, they felt as though fighting the ban may in fact see them somehow worse off in the long run. However, the persistent misinformation from the AFL’s power brokers seems to have forced them into action.

    The Swans did indeed choose to phase COLA out, rather than immediately cease, due to the fact that every single player on the list had COLA built into their contracts. The AFL made it compulsory that they all did. It was impossible to cease immediately, hence the Swans’ decision to phase it out and accept the trade ban. There has since been a shift in thinking from the club which I for one, strongly applaud.

  11. Dave Brown says

    Agree it is a ludicrous ban. The fact that you have two players chewing up so much of your salary cap, particularly when one of them is Tippett, is penalty enough. I wonder if the ban would be relaxed if the Swans agreed to trade Tippett to the Gold Coast or Brisbane.

    The great trick the AFL has played is to convince anyone that it has ever had any real commitment to fairness. At the end of the day the competition is a plaything for the wealthy Melbourne elite and a few Victorian clubs – as it always was. It is clear the AFL wanted Tippett in Queensland and Buddy at GWS and the Swans are now paying for getting in the way. If you were to do a teeny bit of victim blaming you might say that, knowing the AFL Commission’s nature, the Swans were very naïve in the way they played their hand.

  12. I must say that I am with the Swans on this one, Joe.
    In their haste to punish the Swans, those fools at City Hall did not realise that a ban of this nature affects all the other clubs – and is a restraint of trade on the players.
    Jake Niall in the Age some months ago was the first to point all this out.
    I really hope the Swans fight this all the way.

  13. Dave – I definitely believe it’s up to the club as to how much money they’d like to spend on respective players, as long as they fit within the cap of course. The recruitment of Tippett has attracted much criticism, but with him, the Swans have made a prelim and a GF. Not too bad.

    Certainly agree on the AFL trickery regarding the perception of fairness and equalisation. The wealthy Melbourne elite seem well catered for. Swans may have perhaps been a little naive, but punished like this for being naive?

    Smokie – Could not agree more. It affects all clubs, not only the Swans. I’m beginning to believe that the club will fight this all the way, and from what I’ve heard, there’s a more than a handy amount of support for them to do so.

  14. Rob & Steve – It certainly appears as though the club are now fighting this. Here’s hoping for a hard-fought victory in the end!

  15. Ben Footner says

    A side issue, and yet related to this discussion – one thing I never understood was why the Swans were allowed to receive Tippett for ‘free’ simply due to Adelaide’s indiscretion.

    They didn’t have to give up a single thing for him in the end. Fair enough Adelaide should not have received anything for him – but to me the Swans should have been made to kick at least a second round draft pick back into the general draft pool.

    Regarding the trade sanctions in particular – are they fair? Probably not. Do they make me happy? Yes. Yes they do. Sorry Joe, I’ve developed a healthy dislike for your club over the last few years. Haha.

  16. Three questions the AFL need to answer.

    1) When we’re the Swans told about the Trade Ban. (Actual date).
    2) Were the Swans told they would be treated exactly the same as the GWS Giants with the removal of COLA, and was this in writing.
    3) if there is serious concern from AFL about the Swans taking free agents / uncontracted players why are they allowing one club in particular to plunder weaker / less successful clubs. Take the following players.
    Not a bad list, and rumour has it they are in the running for Dangerfield and Yarran.

    Seems as though it is all about fairness as long as you are in the Southern States

  17. No need to be sorry there Ben, although I’m not sure I’d ever class having a dislike of a group of hard-working people that you’ve never met as being healthy.

    Anyway, in regards to the Tippett deal, I think you’ll find that’s how things generally work in the pre-season draft.

  18. BT – Have just been discussing the Dangerfield to Hawthorn scenario at dinner. Interesting to see if he does in fact join that list you have mentioned there, while the Swans are severely hampered in their trading capabilities…..

  19. Peter Flynn says

    Hope the Swans take successful legal action Joe.

    The ‘trade ban’ comprehensively fails the ‘wiff’ test.

  20. Thanks for the support, P. Flynn. My sentiments exactly. Am I sensing a slight soft spot for the Red and White since you SCG debut?

  21. Tony Courtin says

    After decades of battling through sludge and shit to finally attain success,legitimately,we are now being punished. The AFL’s pandering to the southern powerbrokers is necessarily plundering the Swans’ best interests. Even more reason to dislike Hawthorn,whose success over recent years has been founded upon the exact same good management and recruiting policies adopted by the Swans. Cheer cheer.

  22. Peter Flynn says

    The whole experience impressed me Joe.

    I’ve always held the view that the trade ban is unfair.

    Would it stand a legal challenge?

  23. Michael glendining says

    Joe fantastic article I totally agree. I think the recent Richard colless interviews may indicate why a decision was made to enact a trade ban by the commission not recommended by the executive. I noticed mr e McGuire was having another winge yesterday it starting to get very tiresome his digs at the swans. No doubt the timing was intentional to deflect commentary about a certain club missing the eight again. I agree with all the comments regarding the management of the swans and have total faith in them if they choose to take legal action. I have been very impressed with the new chairman Andrew Pridham a friend knows him and before he started he told me the cub will be in good hands and this has been the case.

    The Melbourne old boys club will always try to look after their own interests I often feel they would be happier with 12 Victorian clubs where everyone knows their place. I think it’s imperative that the next afl commission chair is from any state except Victoria.

    I look forward to our finals campaign who knows if the bulldogs (another impertinent team not knowing its place) stay in fourth we have a chance to be the first team since Adelaide to win the prem from outside the top 4 go swans and Reg is God

  24. Keiran Croker says

    Try this for a scenario. Shaw and Goodes retire. Jetta decides to go home to the West. We therefore have ample space in our salary cap to recruit, however we can only accept players at or below average wage. Clearly unfair and not in any way related to our ability to pay the COLA on old contracts.

    Re Tippett, I could be wrong however I understood he was on big money, approx $900k per season for the first 2 years, then much lower approx $450k in years 3 & 4. So not such a drain on salary cap. Buddy is on about $900k this year, increasing in future years. The increased salary cap post 2017 with the new TV rights deal will easily cover for increase in Buddy’s salary.

  25. Earl O'Neill says

    The weirdest aspect is that the Swans are an enormous chunk of the teev rights. Before GWS were established it was calculated that SFC were worth as much as 20% of the teev, given their status as the only team in the largest city.
    That can’t have changed too much, not yet. So the AFL have deliberately sabotaged a successful team in a priority market – where’s the sense in that?
    Being a Monaros fan, I saw no sense in Franklin heading there. We aint short of forwards. Backmen, seasoned inside midfielders, yes. We now have them. A topline ruckman, thanx to Lance, we have Shane.
    Few would refuse Lance. The Kurt deal will become known as one of the all-time trade disasters.

  26. P Flynn – Very happy to hear that. I would think a legal challenge would be good chance of being upheld. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point.

    Michael – Thank you. I agree, we are in very good hands with our chairman and of course A. Ireland. Great operators. I like the sounds of a non-Vic commission chair too. I was only thinking the other day, that we’ve been basically written off, with many feeling disappointed with our season. Yet, we’re every chance of finishing in the Top Four again. Expectations are now consistently high, and that can only be a good thing. How times have changed.

    Keiran – That is exactly the scenario that I fear might happen at season’s end. It just makes no sense. No doubt, the TV rights deal and subsequent rise in salary cap spend played a major part in the recruitment of Buddy. Will look to be a bargain buy in a couple of years.

    Earl – None of this seems to make sense. You’re right, few would refuse Lance, if any. The jury’s out on Tippett, though I do feel he has been harshly treated at times. Your Monaros on the rise. Would love to see the meltdown that an all-Sydney Grand Final would create in Melbourne. One day I hope.

  27. Roger Goddard says

    Being a long time footy fan from the US, it took me awhile to finally find online an explanation to why the Swans were under this strange trade ban. Joe, thank you for finally revealing to me just why my favorite team has had their hands tied in managing their roster.

    Having followed the trade period closely this year, It is a given that some of this years equally loaded trades by clubs such as Collingwood and Geelong will be perfectly fine by the league office. They both rolled in loads of players this year that makes the Tippett and Franklin deals minor in comparison.

    Hopefully the Swans will successfully challenge this ruling. Working toward true parity in our NFL increased interest not only in the US, but internationally as well. The AFL would be well advised to consider that. Over the long term, the health of the league, it’s popularity, and consequently it’s financial future depends on it.

  28. Thanks Roger. The trade ban remains largely unexplained and is conpletely perplexing. While other clubs spend freely, we have our hands tied. Incredible really. I would like to know more about the NFL model, as free agency is clearly not working to ‘equalise’ our game.

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