AFL’s regrettable response to Goodes documentary


Expecting a change of government, the commission wants the game to develop a united approach behind the Uluru Statement From The Heart and, in the words of CEO Gillon McLachlan, ‘‘own’’ the mistakes it made back in 2015 when the AFL failed Goodes.

So it chose Tuesday’s meeting of the 18 clubs to unveil the Darling documentary to the chief executives of all those clubs. Clearly the AFL is hoping to develop a unified response to Goodes revisited — a 75-minute contemplation to be launched at the Sydney Film Festival on June 7 which, only using visual and written reactions from the time, tells it as it happened and reflects so poorly on some individuals.

The film shocked many of the club bosses. Liz Lukin, the AFL’s former executive in charge of corporate affairs who still comes in to handle head office crisis management, attended the screening. She spoke afterwards of the need for a consistent and united club approach to uncomfortable truths exposed in documentary.

At least one CEO was not comfortable with the AFL’s attempt to create a transactional response to such a significant and pivotal moment in the game. Others backed him, believing a managed answer to so many painful questions was beside the point given the discomfort and regret felt by so many in the audience.

Surely, said several club bosses, the focus should not be for the game to stand together on the same page over Goodes but to work together to create a better response next time.

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The elephant in the room was Collingwood president Eddie McGuire. Last week taken to task yet again for his conflict of interest when he questioned the coaching future of Carlton’s Brendon Bolton, McGuire’s role in the Goodes story was multi-layered and ultimately damaging. From the Swans dressing rooms the night he was vilified at the MCG, to his Triple M Breakfast studio just days later, to name two key moments.

Although several bosses were left asking themselves whether they could have done more, most generally agreed the King Kong episode, according to the CEOs, seemed even worse when revisited.

McGuire, who watched the film with his wife Carla some months ago and who said this week that he felt heartbroken by the manner of Goodes’ exit, said he was ‘‘long past’’ worrying about his own portrayal, encouraging new conversations on the issue.

McGuire was not the worst of the media protagonists who weighed in on Goodes. Sam Newman’s vitriolic performance attacking the dual Brownlow medallist horrified the club chiefs and hot on his heels came Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, with Sydney columnist Miranda Devine and Dermott Brereton also taking strong positions.

But therein lay the ongoing problem for McGuire and the ongoing challenge for the competition’s governing body. After the screening, which was presented by Darling, the point was strongly made by another club chief that this was not just another member of the anti-Goodes media throng but an AFL club president.

McGuire as a commentator did not like the dance performed by Goodes as the SCG four years ago at the Friday night Marn Grook game and his views were among several that set the tone for some vitriolic talkback radio the following day. McLachlan would not be interviewed on the matter.

This was a dance created by the AFL-created Flying Boomerangs, an under-age development and playing group of rising Indigenous talent, who taught their moves to Goodes. It sounds like a pivotal moment in the documentary.

The complexities presented by his conflicting roles provoked strong words at Tuesday’s meeting of the club chiefs in a week when the AFL players voiced their disappointment over the Dane Rampe $10,000 fine – $5000 suspended — for mocking an umpire and comparing his voice to that of a little girl.

It is true that the AFL is as worried as it has ever been about the relative dearth of good umpires but some players and their managers feel mutinous at being the scapegoats in what they see as a double-standard approach. Patrick Dangerfield did not say as much but there is a view among the players that one of theirs was forced to pay a heavy price when club presidents never do.

Adam Goodes and Eddie McGuire.Credit:The Age

Darling has seemed determined to take the competition with him as he unveils his Goodes documentary, which should prove a historic educational reflection for years to come. McLachlan, too,  saw it months ago as have key Indigenous playing groups and the Sydney players and staff,  whose relationship with McGuire remains damaged and was further impacted by the Cynthia Banham coin-toss drama.

Its revelation to the clubs comes as the AFL reaches the final stages of its next key appointment — a mental health officer to report to football boss Steve Hocking. Hocking’s view is that clubs over the next five years will be transformed as they move towards models more equipped to deal with the demands of the game and modern society.

Hocking is a key voice on the industry governance committee which involves players, AFL and club executives, player manager Tim Petroro and AFLPA boss Paul Marsh — a group on the verge of reaching some final decisions on what looms as a reshaping of the football clubs’ soft cap and a potential additional $1 million a year to spend on extra medical and psychological services at clubs.

The strong view of the players is that the media too have a strong role to play in the shaping of public scrutiny upon footballers as well as their support staff. That the game failed Goodes cannot be squared at one individual. McLachlan should have been stronger but he was dealing with an unsupportive chairman and a bickering commission.

Instinctive leadership is not his style and he was still then a relatively green CEO.

And McGuire, whose ultimate punishment at the time was vilification education training, will be punished again when the wider Australian and football public watch The Final Quarter.

But if the purpose of the documentary is to bring about future change by recognising past failures then the response from the game does not need to involve a managed transaction with its stakeholders. Surely the Adam Goodes story is too important for that.

Caroline Wilson is a Walkley award-winning columnist and former chief football writer for The Age.

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