Whatever the outcome of police inquiries, there’s no question the Crows have breached the trust that the league and the competition placed in them, and for that the AFL has to come down hard.
If they get away with a fine – and, really, given the stakes, that would be a fortunate result – it must be a hefty one that will genuinely dent club coffers. A small token fine will not suffice and the league should also look at a penalty for the assistant coach present, Ben Hart, though the club bears responsibility more than any individual.
Accidentally or otherwise, Adelaide have brought the game into disrepute. The timing of this incident could hardly be worse, as footy is on the brink of getting a starting date and relying heavily on the good grace and special treatment from governments.
AFL football boss Steve Hocking could not have been clearer when he read clubs, if not the riot act, then a forceful directive to make sure that players played by society’s and the game’s rules in a phone meeting on Tuesday.
The Western Australian government’s less than favourable view of the AFL’s protocols for avoiding COVID-19 infection also forms part of the backdrop. The overall picture is of a competition that is walking a tightrope in order to get games played; any club’s competitive advantage – or players’ poor skinfolds – are inconsequential in comparison.
The AFL hierarchy, understandably, was apoplectic with rage when Sam McClure broke the story that these 16 players had been spotted kicking the ball and so forth on the fairways, while bunkered down at the Novotel.
Given that they aren’t honing their putting or iron play, what were 16 players doing congregated at the golf course and nearby Novotel? The club’s explanation is that those players – all of whom are from states outside SA – had returned from interstate and had to be isolated for the 14-day minimum.
The club says it did not want to have some younger players potentially putting host families at risk, which led them to search for a venue where they could be accommodated. The Novotel was available and also offered an opportunity for limited training.
It is noteworthy that the club sent a dietician to the Novotel to help out hotel staff in preparing food for the players. The Crows did plan this quarantine exercise carefully.
But, somehow, at someone’s behest, there’s been a breach of rules and trust. Instructed to train, Noah’s Ark-style, in pairs, the players have engaged in what sources have described as “circle work”.
Adelaide have not had a great few years since 2017. The Crows finally apologised and owned up to failing players in the pre-season camp for season 2018 and they belatedly came clean about Tyson Stengle’s drink driving incident back in April.
On this occasion, they’ve let the competition down more than themselves. The AFL might well evade consequences from this triple bogey, but the Crows cannot be treated leniently.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.