Departing AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou is unapologetic about his handling of the Essendon supplments scandal, which has plagued the final year of his administration.
Probably the most embarrassing moment in his 11-month tenure came less than three months ago when James Hird’s wife, Tania, declared that her husband would be paid for 2014, directly contradicting the AFL chief.
Demetriou denied this, but was later forced to acknowledge that Hird would be paid his 2014 salary in advance while he served his 12-month suspension.
Demetriou said the furore over the affair – in which there was a bitter feud between the Essendon-Hird camp and the AFL – played no role in his decision to leave at the end of the 2014 season.
“I never injected anyone,” he said. “We always put the players first to protect the integrity of the game. It’s had no impact on me whatsoever.”
Asked about regrets, he said that, other than employing Meatloaf to sing at the 2011 Grand Final, he said he might have acted sooner on concerns about developments within sports science. He wondered “whether we could have acted earlier or perhaps put measures in place to try and prevent things”.
The AFL commission has accepted no responsibility itself for the failing of the code over the last three years.
But he added: “I’m pretty proud of the way we acted last year. We’ve put an integrity unit in place, we’ve changed rules, we’ve enhanced the anti-doping code. What happens hereafter is in ASADA’s hands. The AFL has got not role in that.”
Demetriou’s choice as his proudest professional achievement was something of a surprise. He nominated the establishment of the Adelaide Oval as an AFL venue. “We came from a long way back from that. That was almost mission impossible,” he said.
Former Victorian Premier and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett said Demetriou’s success in establishing venues was his outstanding achievement, and that, on balance, he had been good for the code.
“Andrew’s one extraordinary legacy for the AFL has been the way he has played political parties against each other to get get new stadiums built around the country at almost no cost to the AFL,” Kennett told Fairfax Radio. “Absolutely stunning piece of work.”
But Kennett said Fitzpatrick should join Demetriou at the exit because the AFL Commission has failed to uphold good governance.
“I hope Mike Fitzpatrick is also resigning because the AFL Commission has been far from active, far from good at upholding good governance and the AFL commission has accepted no responsibility itself for the failing of the code over the last three years,” he said.
Having a benevolent dictator is not a bad thing at times.
Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, who has been at loggerheads with Demetriou over equalisation between strong and weak clubs, defended the AFL chief’s handling of the Essendon scandal, the Adelaide salary cap affair and the Melbourne tanking controversy.
“He can’t be held responsible for teams cheating,” McGuire told Fox Sports. “Even the things that went wrong, were basically done for the right reasons.
“You do have to have a whole-of-world view of this and I think… he can leave the job knowing he has contributed greatly to the strength of the AFL. Having a benevolent dictator is not a bad thing at times.”
McGuire said any candidate to replace Demetriou would have to be strong to knock off his current deputy, Gillon McLachlan.
McGuire laughed off the inevitable question about his interest in the role. “Why would I take a demotion from being president of Collingwood?,” he asked.
Fitzpatrick said Demetriou’s greatest contribution has not been commercial, but in providing moral leadership.
“For me the real strength of Andrew’s leadership hasn’t been in terms of stadiums and assets, but his determination to give the game an ethical underpinning and conscience, by promoting the role of women at all levels of the game, by implementing plans to embrace multi-cultural communities, expanding opportunities for indigenous Australians as players and administrators at various levels of the game, and protecting the integrity of the game and emphasising the health, safety and welfare of the players,” Fitzpatrick said.
“It is the responsibility of those who are temporary custodians of the game to leave it in a better shape than when they arrive. On any analysis Andrew has delivered on that principle.”
He said Demetriou’s achievements included:
• the expansion of the competition with the advent of the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney;
• the scheduling of regular season games in every state, as as well as overseas in Wellington, New Zealand;
• the establishment of the AFL’s own media company, AFL Media;
• three collective bargaining agreements with the AFL Players Association;
• the establishment of a future fund to underpin the financial secutiry of the game;
• the establishment of an integrity unit;
• changing the rules of the game to make it safer for players, including protecting players with their head over the ball, a centre bounce rule to stop knee injuries, preventing players sliding into opponents’ legs and new regulations on dealing with concussion;
• lucrative broadcast rights agreements to deliver live coverage of every match on various platforms.