WITH a fundamental ethos of doing whatever it takes to trump one’s opponent, it’s hardly surprising the AFL game’s folklore would thrive on stories of slick deals and corner-cutting.
Thus it has long been and – despite the construction of a more respectable veneer during the past two decades – thus it remains.
The lurking danger is that practitioners of football management’s dark arts will one day outsmart themselves.
It’s not hard to see the two major events of the past week as outcomes of a lingering old culture coming to grief.
If there is sufficient revulsion over a club contriving to avoid winning games and at an administration for throwing obscene sums of football money at a rugby league star whose heart was never in the indigenous code, perhaps a rethink is due.
Perhaps it’s time for administrators to think twice before imagining themselves as Edward de Bono or P.T. Barnum. Those two notables are associated, respectively, with the concept of lateral thinking and the notion of a sucker being born every minute.
At the end of an embarrassing week, it’s worth pondering what the acquisition of a priority draft pick by Melbourne in 2009 and the recruitment of Israel Folau by GWS in 2010 actually achieved. Both were attempts at tinkering with the natural order and both have ended badly. If they share a common outcome, it is loss of respect.
More distressing for Melbourne is the likelihood of carnage. Evidence is mounting that during the second half of the 2009 season specific actions were taken by important figures at the club designed to ensure the team didn’t win so many games as to disqualify itself from a priority draft pick.
The degree of evil in this, it must be said, is debatable. Obviously it is a practice that can’t go unaddressed. Yet it’s nothing like the corruption of horse racing or cricket or sports in which the use of performance-enhancing drugs influences outcomes. Self-interest was not at play.
In this case, a club stands accused of exploiting a bad rule by under-performing in what were meaningless games. It was acting in what it reasonably regarded – according to the rules – as its long-term interests. Many of its supporters sensed what was happening and approved of it.
Nevertheless, the idea that a substantial coterie could be embraced within such a conspiracy, without high risk of eventual disclosure, was totally amateurish and utterly foolish.
And it was indisputably against the spirit of sport.
But so was the rule relating to priority draft picks as it then stood. It didn’t just invite but encouraged what has happened. The AFL’s failure to change its rule at the first hint of the possibility it offered is also condemnable.
The Folau ”coup” was not so much shady as mean-spirited. A high-profile defector from rugby league represented a significant first strike on the major rival in what was now disputed territory. Or, as a well-versed modern spin doctor might put it, an important marketing tool in the code’s attempt to sell itself to a new constituency.
So what did Folau (below) deliver?
Well, certainly nothing on the football field. He was the on-field game’s equivalent of US singer Meat Loaf: highly paid but incapable of producing the goods when required.
Under normal circumstances, the club recruiter and football manager who delivered such an unproductive outcome, at such a price, would be under siege.
Clearly, though, these weren’t normal circumstances. The AFL’s move into western Sydney was perhaps the biggest gamble the game had yet taken. Folau’s recruitment was about selling the game there. So can it be said to have worked in the short term or is it likely to impact over the longer haul?
In the here-and-now, a count of bums on seats for home games in Folau’s one and only season gives not a hint that he was a game-changer. For their nine debut-season games in Sydney, the Giants’ average crowd was barely 15,000. Take out the derbies against the locally popular Swans and that figure falls to just above 7000. There was absolutely no sign of a spike in attendances for games in which Folau took part.
As for the future, if there were young hearts and minds so impressionable as to be won by Folau’s brief time chasing the Sherrin, you’d wonder whether they are likely to be made of true-believer stuff.
Beyond this is the ethic of the undertaking in the first place.
An athlete has given up two years of his limited life in the sport in which he has a gift. Folau will be 24 years old at the start of the next rugby league season; the years 22 and 23 were lost. Yes, he made his own decision, but he was bought.
This coup was always too smart by half and, in the end, got what it deserved.
Of course, now the likelihood is that the Giants will snare Kurt Tippett and the departure of Folau will be considered timely.
Stand by for the back-room operators to once again be hailed as masterminds.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.