What the AFL Needs – A CEO for the ‘Brave New World’ of 21C Sport

The big question for the AFL and its search for a new CEO is about values not personalities. It is about more than the theatrically characterised personality of the past CEOs (‘Ross the Boss’ Oakley, ‘Avuncular’ Wayne Jackson or Andrew ‘Demitrov’ Demetriou). It is about more, with apologies to Donald Trump, than the art of the deal.

Above all, the AFL needs two things: structural change and social /cultural change.

One, it needs an ‘ex officio’ CEO without voting rights on the Commission. That will deal with some of the possible legal contradictions in the process which ‘rubbed out’ (AD’s words), the coach on whose watch Essendon created what the Dr Ziggy Zwitkowski internal report described as ‘a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the Club’.

Even more importantly, such a CEO will serve the Commission and Australian Football, implementing its policies and, doing its deals rather than viewing the governing structures of football as an extension of their ego (or more positively, their creativity).

Two, central in this transition will be social and cultural change. The AFL castle gate will be opened more often, as will club gates to watch training (and here Essendon and Geelong might take special note).

While not endorsing the blog-bashers, the blind Bombers and the other habitual abuse-throwers who see the AFL CEO as a kind of umpire at large – an all purpose target – there have been problems.

Footy needs to return to ‘the people’s game’ as in the title of my book. It will abandon what critics view as the Pell-like ‘Vatican’ philosophy which is often characterised as ‘We know, you listen’.

Inclusive footy culture, not closed and hierarchical corporate culture, is what footy needs. It needs it even more in the era of a multi-million dollar ‘industry’ (to use a word which should be reserved for the business pages or for discussion of a new EBA with the AFLPA).

Inclusiveness is about more than ethnicity, indigeneity, gender, region or sexual orientation, despite the AFL’s progress on several fronts.

The ‘AFL ‘ (as in its logo/marketing brand name) has to return to its larger role -in its full name  –  as ‘the Australian Football League’, the guardian and custodian of the national game. An ex officio CEO, a servant of the league and of footy will have a major role in shaping that movement in a democratic, inclusive and open direction.

In the ‘Brave New World’ footy needs a world vision beyond metrics. The game needs an AFL CEO who comes from the footy fields, from the grass roots, rather than from inside the castle, even while also business-savvy. That may mean someone from outside the gates.

Stephen Alomes is the author of Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058 (available from http://www.wallawallapress.com/australian_football_peoples_game.php)  with its discussion of the debate over ‘AFL “Arrogance”?’.

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  1. Rocket Nguyen says

    Couldn’t agree more Steven!

    Both League and Union have gone for CEOs from outside the game. Both have genuine big business experience and were not middle managers in an insurance company.

    Union boss Pulver has a real feel for the game while the NRL’s Dave Smith has a moral compass that has usually been absent in league.

    The AFL now completely runs the game in Australia. It has taken over all the affiliated leagues, now even the VCFL. The executives of these competitions are not accountable to the stakeholders but rather to AFL senior management that is far removed from their local context.

    This has amplified the AFL knows best approach.

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