Editorial: AFL looks to move on from its tawdry past

Simon Lethlean

Simon Lethlean

THE resignations last week of two high-profile male AFL executives after their extra-marital affairs with considerably younger female colleagues were made public has sparked fierce debate on a number of complex issues.

Many have lauded the AFL for holding its highly paid and powerful executives Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss accountable for what chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan described as “inappropriate relationships”.

Others argue that this is yet another example of the AFL straying from its primary role of running a professional football competition and inserting its own standards upon not just its employees, but more broadly the community at large.

Some of those gravitating towards the second camp have no doubt levelled the same accusation at the AFL when it has used its clout to promote different causes – such as the annual LGBTI pride game – that are not popular with everyone who follows the sport.

There is no shortage of football followers who consider a sporting organisation the absolute last place they would dream of looking for guidance on how to live their lives and simply wish the AFL would stick to what they do best.

But this attitude fails to recognise how the corporate landscape has changed in recent years. A business’s success extends fair beyond profit and loss.

Mr McLachlan did the rounds of the football broadcasting radio stations on Saturday and made a pretty poor fist of explaining exactly why the actions of the two men now out of work differed from other affairs and relationships happening at the AFL.

After all, these were consensual – albeit morally questionable – relationships between consenting adults.

In the end, the beleaguered CEO invoked the so-called The Castle defence, essentially saying it was the vibe of the thing.

And he was right.

The AFL has long been ruled by a male-dominated and misogynistic culture that is only now starting to turn, thanks to the female trailblazers at clubland and in the media, as well as the success of the AFLW competition.

If two well-performed executives yet poorly-performed husbands and fathers have to fail in order for the AFL to enhance its credibility in this space, then the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain.

- Ross Tyson, deputy editor