Sport AFL Even in a global pandemic, AFL circus is a virus that’s hard to tame

Even in a global pandemic, AFL circus is a virus that’s hard to tame

On the move: Brooke Cotchin (L) and her husband Trent take their family on the AFL charter flight to Queensland. Photo: AAP
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The AFL, its clubs and fans have long excelled in navel-gazing of the highest order – with Victorians in a coronavirus lockdown and footy the only means of escape, the tempests in teacups have reached new heights.

In media terms the latest clickable saga has it all – COVID-19 breaches galore, the influencer wife of a premiership player on Instagram, a conflict of interest, intrigue at head office, oh, and Eddie McGuire has an opinion.

Keeping the competition alive in interstate hubs was always going to provide plenty of ‘break out the popcorn” moments for the breathless footy types, but the questioning of reporter Mitch Cleary by the AFL’s own media arm has sent the saga into overdrive.

Cleary’s crime, apparently, was tweeting freshly massaged Brooke Cotchin’s Instagram post that outed her attendance at a Gold Coast day spa, resulting in her husband’s club, Richmond, copping a hefty fine.

AFL Media said in a statement late on Monday that it had made an editorial decision on Friday to not name any family members associated with club breaches of the Return to Play protocols.

In many ways that is understandable, and a policy that may even be ethical, but that didn’t stop the rest of the football media going into meltdown mode.

The league has worked hard to establish AFL Media as a separate and credible brand, with a brief to cut the lunch of other mainstream players covering the daily minutiae that football serves up.

Now the rest of the footy media – and the king of ‘there is no conflict of interest here’ Collingwood president McGuire – were able to highlight that AFL Media’s independence was always suspect and not subject to journalistic best practice.

McGuire’s club Collingwood had been one of five clubs taken to task over breaches of the coronavirus protocols that the AFL is enforcing in a bid to keep the competition on television and the dollars flowing in.

On Friday, only hours after McGuire had attacked clubs who had breached restrictions, Magpie coach Nathan Buckley was embarrassingly caught up in the debate when he and assistant Brenton Sanderson played a doubles tennis match in Perth with an unapproved person – Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik.

Collingwood’s Nathan Buckley coaching in Perth on the weekend. Photo: AAP

“We let the club down in that regard by a miscommunication and not being diligent enough with our understanding of what we could and could not do,” Buckley said in the obligatory media mea culpa.

“I just had a really expensive game of tennis during the week.”

If a sober and sensible professional like Buckley can get caught up in a breach, then what chance the families of players who have uprooted children, jobs and the comforts of (locked-down) home to keep the show on the road?

McGuire was making the most of the humble pie on his Triple M radio gig on Monday, saying he stood by a tough stance on coronavirus protocols.

“My opinion has been that we needed to go very hard as far as what the sanctions would be and that people had to have personal responsibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Cotchin – who posted an apology to Instagram – finds herself under public attack and a journalist spent a day in limbo for doing the job he was employed to do.

McGuire is used to being in the spotlight, but who knows how the other two individuals are faring under the glare?

On a weekend when the AFL media offered endless platitudes about Majak Daw’s stunning on-field return from what injuries that euphemistically has been referred to “falling off a bridge”, it’s only taken a day for the footy media’s daily pressure cooker to enmesh new targets.

Hawthorn great Dermott Brereton, who has lost family members to suicide, choked up on air on the weekend when discussing Daw’s return and even mentioned the word – in a month when the death of Shane Tuck had already highlighted the issue of mental health.

The AFL media cycle is a voracious beast and is also played as a contact sport.

From a distance, one can only wonder what Queenslanders are making of the daily hysterics, even if there is a Gabba grand final at the end of the rainbow.

With Victorians under strain, locked down and facing a nightly curfew, there is no doubt it is a bad look for football clubs to be breaching virus protocols – but then, there’s also an argument that it’s also not ideal to be beaming a contact sport into lounge rooms in the middle of a global pandemic.

Throw in the Prime Minister at an NRL match twirling his scarf while people are dying in aged-care homes and you get some sense of how totally irrelevant this latest football ‘scandal’ should be when totting up the column inches.

But brand reputation, marketing and online clicks is what makes the AFL world go round, and there’s a stack of cash and people’s well-paid jobs at stake if the competition falls over.

“I’d be frustrated if I was locked down and then something like this happened,” the ever-honest Buckley said of his breach and what footy fans might think of it.

“It was a lack of due diligence by me and follow-up and I should have known better, really.”

So should Brooke Cotchin. So should AFL Media. So should those of us buying into the viral news that makes the footy world go round.