AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has fronted the media today to respond to growing fan unrest as to a supposed crackdown on fan behaviour at AFL venues over the last few weeks.
In a tense and, at times, almost fiery press conference, McLachlan offered frustratingly little detail in his opening address. The CEO made note of record AFL attendances up to this point of the season and reiterated his belief of passionate fans and barracking being integral to the game.
But much of his conference revolved around stock standard sentiments about fans needing to feel safe and free to “be themselves” at the football and the AFL trying to “get the balance right” on fan enjoyment and fan safety.
While he did apologise to fans if they felt “there [had] been an overcorrection” in security presence – promising feelings of fan intimidation at matches will end – he continued to insist there had been no crackdown on the AFL’s part and deflecting several questions from journalists as being “for the venues” to answer.
McLachlan also incredulously claimed he’d not been aware of any fan unrest over the situation until recent days.
All in all, he very much failed to provide the clarity fans have been seeking after a controversial few weeks.
McLachlan also spoke of Jeff Kennett’s questionable comments as to security guards being “new arrivals” at his press conference, claiming he’d made it clear to him that he found the comments unacceptable and that the Hawthorn president “regretted” those comments.
However, this flies in the face of comments made by Kennett on breakfast radio this morning. Speaking to SEN, Kennett said “Did I go too far? Well, some of you might say so, but I’m certainly not backing away from it at all. I’m not going to be driven into the ground by some sort of bloody political correctness.”
Fan behaviour has received increased media attention this season, with footage of physical altercations between fans at AFL matches being made public at an increased rate.
If the league had come out three weeks ago and said something along the lines of; “due to increased instances of physical violence at AFL matches, we are increasing security to ensure AFL grounds are a safe place for all spectators,” nobody would have batted an eye.
But fans have been left confused as to what the perceived increase in security is all about after one spectator was ejected from Round 12’s Carlton-Brisbane game for abusing an umpire, while some cheer squads have also claimed they’ve been subject to undercover surveillance all season.
In the absence of any official messaging, it appears the AFL have completely lost control of the narrative and allowed disgruntled fans to connect their own dots on the matter.
Gillon McLachlan had a perfect opportunity to come out today and unreservedly apologise for compromising the match day experience for the game’s most passionate fans and explain just why security behaviour had changed so drastically recently.
But he completely missed that opportunity, opting for safe, sterile corporate speak and getting bogged down arguing ultimately irrelevant points of detail with journalists (although the press contingent deserves some criticism for pointlessly trying to corner the CEO on the AFL integrity unit’s rumoured Jaidyn Stephenson investigation).
In any case, no matter where you stand on the AFL fan behaviour saga, this was clearly a free hit for McLachlan and he’s just left it for the keeper.
For mine, I’m supportive of a crackdown on targeted umpire abuse. Yelling from the stands, within the realms of reasonable language, is fine, but heading on down to the umpires’ tunnel to single them out (which is what saw the Carlton fan ejected) is not.
I’m also supportive of measures to eradicate physical violence at sporting events. That never has and never will have a place at any venue.
But what frustrates me – and just about everyone – is we still don’t know why the security crackdown took place.
Gil can say “it’s for the venues” all he wants, but if he doesn’t have the information the fans are crying out for, why call a press conference in the first place?
The only purpose today’s press conference seems to have served was for the AFL to be seen as doing something about the issue and, unfortunately, it’s not taken much for fans to see right through it.