I’m normally a fair and patient man. I’ve been watching footy for nearly 60 years, and as a Crows supporter I’ve ridden the highs and lows.
But I’ve hit the wall after last round’s umpiring debacle. And not just for that one fateful error. Or the departing CEO explaining at a press conference in a dog park that an error was made and that he’s sorry it’s cost us a finals spot, as well as affecting the chances of numerous other teams.
It’s everything. And under Gill’s watch, there’s been a lot of everything.
Consider where our national game is at. A multimillion-dollar business with a $4.5 billion broadcast rights deal. With 11 AFL clubs being owned by the members, two being owned by the West Australian Football Commission and five by the AFL itself.
With a compromised season played by 18 teams over 24 rounds. With one club playing 14 games at the Grand Final venue while some play only one there. With the same club only travelling interstate five times while some travel every second week.
A fixture compromised by the revenue produced by the big Victorian clubs over fairness. An archaic review system which slows the game but rarely provides surety. Part-time umpires, many of whom struggle to bounce the ball consistently at centre bounces.
Cameramen who focus too tightly on the man with the ball instead of the field of play. Commentators calling games from a TV screen. Constant rule changes which rarely add anything but confusion. An inconsistent MRO which is a national joke.
A game overseen by a top-heavy corporate structure led by a retiring CEO, who for some reason needs a year to officially hand over his duties. An organisation which spruiks fairness, inclusivity and racial harmony but is happy to have as its corporate partners a fast food company, a major bank, a brewing company and a betting agency. Hardly the bastions of mental and physical well being.
And a period where racial scandals like the Adam Goodes and drawn-out Hawks fiascos were handled by simply hoping they would go away.
An organisation which tosses away money on promoting the game in places like China and New Zealand and inventing AFLX, which nobody wanted, nor supported.
An official website which is so confusing that finding a game’s press conference can take longer than the conference itself. And usually proves equally as frustrating because apparently giving microphones to the people asking the questions is beyond their technical ability.
In fact, besides handling the difficult COVID period well, it is hard to mount a case that any aspect of football has improved during Gill’s decade-long tenure.
And yet despite all this, the game continues to grow. A testament more to the game itself rather than the administration of it. A fact which will no doubt be overlooked when the AFL reports what a wonderful job it is doing in its next annual report and how they have once again achieved record attendances.
If you were starting a competition from scratch there is nothing about our existing corporate structure which screams best practice.
Admittedly, the AFL evolved fairly quickly, and when the first interstate team was included it was more of a quick fix to save a team, rather than the first step of the planned growth of a national competition which would see teams competing from every mainland state in 20 odd years.
But surely we have now reached the point where someone has to pause and reflect where we are and where we’re going, rather than these continual reactionary quick fixes, or worse, total inaction because the problems are too hard.
Sure, as fans we can vote with our feet, but the AFL knows we love our game too much to do that and so we’ll just continue to become increasingly disillusioned but still attend or watch on TV, despite what they do, or don’t do.
And frustratingly, this bloated, self-regulating organisation has become so arrogant it doesn’t even see the need for change.
I don’t have a quick fix, but one thing I learnt through my business years is that we now live in an age where the power of people can be harnessed through the internet to achieve change.
I truly hope someone out there with a real passion for our great game can come up with a method to pull these corporate cowboys back into line…