Sunday, 10 February 2013

Editorial: Trust and Integrity

The events of the past week have been shocking. We have all read, seen and heard the fall out for the "Essendon request to the AFL and ASADA", as well as the Australian Crime Commission investigation and report.

What we also note is that there is a positive response from the AFL to this... that cheating, fixing, doping and breaking of statutes and laws will not be tolerated.

We do think that as much as the League believes that the current problems can be solved (or at least minimised) through additional regulation, there is still more to be done to restore faith in football.

When Essendon met ASADA
The Essendon admission that it needed help in verifying if supplements were complaint or not highlights that there was an element of trust employed across the club, and that trust is now lost.

That players were required to sign declarations that are outside their standard playing contracts is alarming, and reminiscent of the Tippett saga. With the whole playing group requested to sign, it is surprising that the AFL Players Association were not involved earlier. As Matt Finnis says:
"The legal relationship which governs the employment of a player to a club is set out in the 20-odd page standard playing contract and supported by 100-odd pages of a Collective Bargaining Agreement.
That is the totality of the legal terms players are employed under, and clubs shouldn't be seeking to vary those in any way at all."
The Age: "AFLPA Flags Waiver Concern"   6 Feb 2013.

So, the standard contract and CBA covers all legal aspects of employment. If so, that raises a few questions:
    1. Is it possible that Essendon is in breach of that contract between itself and each player (and potentially to the AFL as well)?

    2. When the players were asked to sign, why were they not straight to their Association to request clarification and advice?

    3. Were the players properly educated by the AFLPA as to what the standard contracts stood for, and that additional documents and contracts are verboten?

    4. The players were noted as requesting 'assurances from their coaching and medical staff' about what was being administered. Do the players hold their own Association in such low regard, or does the power balance in these employment contracts tilt firmly to the side of the clubs?

    5. In the age of Google, online data and all the information that flows via the internet, why were no internal club staff or players noted as checking out for themselves what they were being administered or administering?

There seems much more at work here, but the trust between the staff and players appears to have been eroded, and the lack of trust between the players and their association highlighted.

Demetriou's Way
The washout from the ACC investigation will be that the AFL tightens its policies. These were outlined by Andrew Demetriou in a press conference on Feb 7 2013.

Interestingly, these actions targeted outside AFL House, which on the whole is reasonable, as drugs and match fixing etc would be centred mostly on the players. That said, there is still scope for problems at House level.

But further to those actions there was also a lot of talk relating to 'fairness' and the 'integrity' of the game.
This came from inside the AFL:
AFL Commission Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick: "This is about the welfare of players at all levels. It’s about fairness – the essence of our game."
AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou: "Our sport, this great code has always prided itself on player welfare, the fairness of the competition and these people who seek to push the boundaries and experiment, look out." 
and also from outside, such as:

Richard Ings, former Chairman of ASADA: "Sport is all about integrity. Not just the actual integrity, but the perception of integrity"

As before, the programs to be implemented by the AFL are mostly outward from AFL House. In terms of integrity, there is huge scope for improvement inside AFL House as well.

The footballing public well know;
    1- The fixture is compromised, not only in terms of balance on who teams do and don't play, but also in terms of when teams play. The fixture and scheduling integrity was lost years ago, sacrificed for the dollar.

    2- There have been compromised drafts in the recent past where clubs have been given increased draft powers, and also draft regions that other teams could not draft from. The primary mechanism employed to balance and even the playing stocks has been compromised.

    3- As a result of the increased draft powers for poorly performed clubs, allegations of tanking have been raised, not just on Melbourne in 2009, but over a range of clubs for over a decade if this blog is to believed. This cuts to the very core of the game itself... that all games are fair dinkum contests, played in the best spirits, and not for other means.

    4- There has been draft tampering and undisclosed payments, as per the Tippett Affair. That 6 months out of football, and a return to a new club on a monster salary was considered just punishment for breaching two of the games key 'fairness tenets' shows that integrity may not have been considered paramount in that judgement.

    5- There are players who have external contracts that allow certain well connected clubs to make third party payments to players outside the salary cap. Another key plank in fairness also has its integrity weakened, but thankfully the AFL has begun to address this.

We are firmly of the opinion that there is a need for serious reform in the AFL, and not only in the clubs and their dealings with sport science, but also from AFL House as well.

In addressing the above 5 problems, the League administration will no doubt run into a head on clash with its member clubs. But the AFL Commission should remember that it was established to control the game, set agendas and guide the code (or be 'custodians of the code' as the CEO likes to put it). While some major decisions must be ratified by clubs, on the whole issues around the running of the game (as per the points above) rest with the AFL.
The Commission should deal without fear or favour.

Closing Comment
There is so much to be washed out of the ACC report, and the ASADA investigations into Essendon. In both cases, the time is now to implement reform, which the AFL has stated as an objective.
From our reading of the totality of the competition, reform must come not just at club level, but also at AFL House level. It must come to the basic structures employed to create evenness. It must also come in the workplace relationships... between employer (club) and employee (player), as well as between union (AFLPA) and union members (players).

We also are certain that the positions taken by AFL House reflect the conduct of all employed throughout the code. Consider these words from 2,300 years ago that are still relevant today.
"If your desire is for good, the people will be good. The moral character of the ruler is the wind; the moral character of those beneath him is the grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends." Confucius

Without reform, football will endure. But it will be a hollow reflection of itself.
With true reform, steeled in the principles of fairness, ethics and integrity, the code will flourish.

Starting Monday, we will look at an area of reform, and propose a solution.

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