Sunday, 28 April 2013

Peter Gordon Sunday

On Tuesday the 16th of April, Western Bulldogs President Peter Gordon delivered the first Victoria University Chancellor’s Lecture for 2013, entitled "A level playing field? Ethics and power in sport."
Details of the speech are at these pages
Every AFL team wants a secret recipe for success
‘Any Given Sunday’ principle is best: Peter Gordon

Rather unsurprisingly, given the content, the main football media missed this speech (well, didn't report it anyway). A Google News search brings up nothing.
And really, the AFL journalists should be listening and reporting this speech. Not just that it was from a football club President, but also a socially-conscious lawyer and unabashed football fan.

The content of the speech highlights issues that will affect the AFL competition for generations.

On Equity:
“I unequivocally support the ‘Any Given Sunday’ principle. It means that every weekend, there are not just one or two blockbuster games, but many more.  This increases ratings and revenue and engages the whole of the industry fan-base.
“It also means that a young man drafted to GWS, the Western Bulldogs or Port Adelaide has the same prospect of premiership success as his best mate who got drafted to Collingwood.”

On the Magnification of Importance of Off-Field Endevour:
“One inevitable effect is to intensify the confinement of the parameters for success and failure, to the search for the smallest of edges in the fields of roughly equal endeavour – in areas such as recruiting and list management, injury rehabilitation and management, deployment of sports science in all its offerings, sports psychology, and on field strategy.”
Peter Gordon said while this pushing the boundaries might be seen as abnormal or abhorrent – it is not only of the essence of professional sport, it is required, driven and mandated by the fundamental economic principles which underpin the professional sporting industry.
“In this environment, thinking about pushing the boundaries is not just common sense, it’s unavoidable, it’s probably negligent not to." 

On Over-Reaching for a Competitive Edge:
“Injecting substances which make your players just a little ‘fresher’ for a crucial final could create a difference which is magnified into a game changer, because every other area of competitive football endeavour in the AFL is designed to ensure a contest between equals.
“If Essendon truly has happened upon the AFL player equivalent of a secret recipe of eleven different herbs and spices, then unlike Colonel Sanders, there is little chance it would be able to keep that intellectual property to itself for the next forty years. It will either be banned or in two years time, every club will have its own Colonel Sanders. That’s the nature of the industry.”

On the Ethics of finding a Competitive Edge:
 “In my view, permitting the unregulated use of performance-regulating substances breaches a number of primary ethical obligations we as an industry owe our players, the code, the kids who watch and the broader community.”
 He said it is up to the AFL and the regulatory bodies to do their jobs well, both in setting the ethical priorities and in enforcement.
He said that while most peoples’ eyes glaze over at the mention of ethics – ethics have practical industrial applications in professional sports.
Sometimes, this involves hard choices but the task of ethics in professional sport is to set the boundaries and also to establish principles by which innovation which pushes those boundaries is evaluated.
“The more commercial and less lofty features of professional sports are not a reason for ignoring the creation and maintenance of a proper ethical framework for professional sport.  In fact, they make it all the more important,” Peter Gordon said.

Gordon notes quite well the bind that clubs find themselves in. The priority is to win, as this drives sponsorship, membership, finances. But extending a winning mentality to 'a winning at all costs' approach leads clubs into murky waters, as highlighted by the Essendon "supplements" saga, and to a lesser extent the 'tanking-that-is-not-tanking' cloud around Melbourne.

There are a few pertinant points the AFL administrators, who invest so much time and resource into securing their brand image, could take from this speech.
Perhaps the most powerful could be that if clubs are taking steps outside accepted practices, or even on 'the edge of the envelope', then the brand implications will resonate for years. It will be tainted in the eyes of consumers. Winning at all costs, "Whatever It Takes", including disregarding health and welfare obligations to your playing staff, will be seen as pure capitalist greed... the very antithesis of a modern respectful society.

The AFL have tried very hard to be leaders on societal issues... racism, discrimination, respect for women, illicit drug use. Now is the time for another 'moral' from the AFL - leadership on clean, drug free sportsmen and women.

Additional [Related] Comment
We have already noted his call that ''intelligent discussion'' among presidents and AFL executives was needed to redress the gap between bigger and smaller clubs. Of particular note was;
'' the end, the best model of competition is one where the result of each game is unpredictable,'' he said. ''To do that, you need a measure of equality, and it's become very evident over recent years that there is an almost lineal correlation between the amount of money you've got to spend and success on the field."
Our studies of data on blow-outs and a correlation to club spending confirms that without equality in spends, there is no equality on field. Again this data is here, and the chart from that post reproduced as below.

Without redress comes inherent inequity, the decline of some clubs and the end of an 18 team AFL as it stands today.
Which equals less television airtime filled with football, less revenue, less bums on seats, less kids playing at a junior level (as there are decreased opportunities to play at the peak level)... its a vicious spiral of decline.

The AFL need to pour more than just cash into clubs. They need to make significant reform of the structures under which the clubs operate, and that they preside over.

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