Melbourne Demons have to face the music

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Melbourne Coach Dean Bailey looks on during the AFL Round 19 match between the Geelong Cats and the Melbourne Demons at Skilled Stadium, Geelong. Slattery Images

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AFL club Melbourne FC is one of the oldest football clubs of any code in the world and was responsible for establishing the game’s first set of rules.

It hasn’t won a premiership for 48 years and tragically lost its popular President at the beginning of last season.

It’s tempting to say the AFL should just let its tanking investigation slide. But it can’t. Not now.

Tanking is a form of match fixing. It’s doesn’t seem as grubby as the type gamblers undertake but it is still match fixing.

Despite arguments that the system encourages it and that certain teams have no option but to pursue it (“You have to do these things if you are going to survive,” remarked former Demon Russell Robertson in 2009), deliberately losing or reducing the likelihood of winning is clearly against the nature and spirit of competition, not to mention a kick in the teeth to sponsors and genuine supporters.

The AFL has chosen to pursue the matter and must see it to the end, even if there is some valid cynicism over its decision to finally pursue the tanking phenomenon after years of AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou denying it ever existed.

Fox Footy’s On The Couch has gained a reputation for making players say things they wish they hadn’t. In August, Geelong coach Chris Scott, unaware he was still on air, aggressively demanded an apology from the provocative host Gerard Healy.

That semi-comical moment has most likely been forgotten by the relevant parties, but it was a guest’s comments a month earlier that are now haunting the Melbourne Football Club and its former coach Dean Bailey.

For Brock McLean, the programme’s comfy fireside set and Mike Sheahan’s homely demeanour – not to mention the green room drinks, the joy of rediscovering his form, and relief that his AIDS tweet saga had blown over – proved too much.

The former Demon blabbed that Melbourne “definitely” tanked during Bailey’s tenure.

Naturally, he thought nothing would be done because the competition’s CEO had been smugly declaring that tanking didn’t exist, despite strong hints by Bailey himself, former Carlton assistant coach Tony Liberatore, and McLean’s ex-teammate Robertson that it did.

For some reason it was McLean’s comments that changed Andrew Demetriou’s tune.

From being like former UCI president Hein Verbruggen (“Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never.”), the AFL boss morphed into Travis Tygart, producing an 800 page document alleging Bailey, chief executive Cameron Schwab, and former football manager Chris Connolly to be guilty of bringing the game into disrepute and tampering with the national draft.

I’m sure McLean is now regretting his comments and their implications for his former coach, who is facing an additional charge of “not coaching to his utmost”.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that during questioning by the AFL integrity officers, McLean “backtracked” on some of his statements.

As with the Kurt Tippett affair, the AFL has decided to target individuals, but the investigation may have graver implications for the club if, as has been suggested, Bailey, Schwab and Connolly implicate the board – and Jim Stynes.

The lawyers employed by Melbourne to represent Schwab and Connolly and the one acting on Bailey’s behalf have already stated they will challenge the interviewing methods of the investigators and the AFL’s definition of tanking.

No player has publicly claimed they were advised to throw games and the AFL appears to be relying on examples of overt “experimentation ” by Bailey to prove the existence of tanking, and an alleged meeting held by Connolly in which he advised football staff of the importance of losing games.

The AFL may find it extremely difficult to prove tanking took place and any decisions to lay charges seem destined to end up in the Supreme Court.

It’s likely to be a drawn out affair but the AFL, and its CEO in his new guise of avenger, have gone too far to pull out now, or to call an amnesty as suggested by Demetriou’s serial critic Grant Thomas.

It is right that the AFL follow through with the investigation but when this affair is over the AFL is obliged to follow-up on the other allegations and admissions of tanking by other teams in the past.

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