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Volume 10 No. 25
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Commission To Investigate Australian Football League's Handling Of Essendon Saga

Australian Football League CEO Andrew Demetriou has admitted that "he could have played a more meaningful role in the prolonged and compromised negotiations with Essendon that included the administrative oversight that allowed suspended coach James Hird to be paid in advance" for the '14 season, according to Caroline Wilson of THE AGE. Demetriou revealed that "a commission-led review into the Bombers' supplements scandal will scrutinise the AFL's handling of the long-running drama, which led to a bitter falling-out between that club and head office." Essendon Chair Paul Little said early this month that "negotiations had been frustrated by Demetriou's back-seat role in talks between the two parties." Demetriou: "It's a point of view that's been put forward several times and it's a view that I think will be fed into the process we are undertaking." Demetriou said that "he hoped his reputation had not been tarnished" and refused to be drawn on whether the chances of AFL Deputy CEO Gillon McLachlan succeeding him had been hurt. But he added, ''It's not about Gill and it's not about me" (THE AGE, 2/21). In Melbourne, Wilson also wrote predicting the timing of Demetriou's departure "from a job that his influence and pay packet suggests is the most powerful in Australian sport has been a fruitless game that has accompanied the start of at least the last five AFL seasons." The fact Demetriou and the game "are still recovering from its annus horribilis has fuelled speculation on the timing of any exit announcement." Surely "he has some bedding down to achieve." The AFL and Essendon and all the major players therein "are still picking up the pieces of a scandal that Demetriou admitted this week had tested football fans and long-term relationships in the game to an unprecedented level." Demetriou also came under fire "for his initially soft response to the Eddie McGuire racial insult to Adam Goodes, and later more generally when he laughed uncontrollably on Channel Seven upon learning that a St. Kilda footballer had set fire to a dwarf" (THE AGE, 2/21).

A 'CONTROVERSIAL YEAR': Also in Melbourne, Mark Robinson wrote Demetriou revealed what he learned from "footy’s most controversial year."

Q: Is AFL’s brand arguably at its lowest point in your time in charge?
Andrew Demetriou
: There’s no doubt it has been tested. There’s no doubt there weren’t any winners out of 2013. We shouldn’t sugar coat and pretend it wasn’t a year that affected the brand on a lot fronts. But our supporters are resilient, our game is incredibly resilient. I think the finals restored a lot of faith in the game. But of course the brand was damaged so it’s imperative we rebuild, move forward and try to put the past behind us.

Q: Can you move forward without acknowledging the mistakes?
: You can always move forward and you can always learn from mistakes you might’ve made. Not everyone gets it right all the time.

Q: What did you learn?
Demetriou: It only takes the action of one person which can cause significant damage to the game, to clubs and to individuals. There are people who seek to infiltrate the game, so I think one of our key learnings, and despite having an integrity unit which was established in 2008, probably one of the wake-up calls was we needed to do more. So despite thinking we weren’t in bad shape, we were exposed.

Q: You were one of the sport heads in Canberra on the “blackest day in Australian sport." Did the Federal government, ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency] and ACC [Australian Crime Commission] blow it out of proportion?
Demetriou: There are two things about that. The issue was a serious issue and it needed to be addressed.

Q: So dramatically?
Demetriou: Should it have been done in that public forum with this broad press conference? I think that did some serious damage to sport in Australia. For a few days there it was on a global scale, the world thought most, if not all, sportspeople in this country were tainted with corruption and drugs. It was unfair on sport in general and athletes.

Q: People are arguing you should resign, people are saying you handled the investigation badly at the end. Do you feel you have been hurt by the supplement saga?
Demetriou: First of all, I don’t think about myself. Do I think at the end of the year, particularly around the issue of the pay, that that wasn’t received or handled well ... I think that’s a fair and legitimate position being put (HERALD SUN, 2/20).