But surely the opposite applied. Had the AFL followed through on its threat to place itself at the pinnacle of correct social-distancing behaviours by suspending players who broke the rules then every state government and their medical chiefs would have taken note.
Instead McLachlan missed an opportunity and we will never know just how strong the connection is between letting the Crows get away with breaking such serious sets of rules and South Australia’s refusal to follow the rest of the states in allowing full-contact training.
It is a refusal that will come at a heavy financial cost to the competition and potentially place the two South Australian clubs at a competitive disadvantage.
The state’s chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier, who appears to have gone against the advice of the South Australian Premier in standing firm, told Adelaide radio on Thursday the Barossa affair was not connected to her decision.
That the players, if you read the AFL’s reasoning, were a bunch of sheep incapable of questioning a coach whose only crime appears to have stood by and let it happen suggests head office should rethink the wisdom of its funding of the AFLPA – something already on the agenda of several influential club bosses.
Another reason given by the AFL for letting off the players and club was that the session only lasted 15 or 16 minutes. Even ignoring the fact that this took place on day one of the 14-day camp and has not happened again because the Crows were caught out you can only assume from that reasoning that breaking social-distancing protocols has a time limit link never underlined before by the league.
It is true that the AFL despite all it’s tough talking had not legislated coronavirus protocols. The commission, after failing to act on Adelaide, ruled that future player/coach/official transgressions would be deemed conduct unbecoming, a catch-all fitting neatly into already existing rules.
The game’s general counsel Andrew Dillon will act in the match review officer role with a level of penalties linked on a sliding scale starting with intentional, moving to reckless and potentially a third less serious level. Any player wishing to plead against a suspension – which could be as long as season-ending – will face a disciplinary hearing.
But the fact remains that whether the rules were in place in time for the Crows the game has set a standard by letting them off and surely clubs fighting charges from now on will point to that.
It is disappointing too that the AFLPA and even some clubs have pointed the finger at the media and the general public instead of taking responsibility for both past and potentially future protocol breaches.
Patrick Dangerfield told Footy Classified on Wednesday that some zealous young journalists fighting for relevance or even their jobs could be hell-bent on catching players breaking rules. That view seems to be supported by AFLPA chief Paul Marsh, whose team also fear the public could turn vigilante on players.
Well, anyone who has been snapped standing too close in a coffee queue or admonished at the supermarket check-out knows this is happening across society. AFL players are no different and would do well to rid themselves of that victim mentality.
Ditto the “everyone else was doing it”. That familiar refrain echoes Melbourne back when the club was caught deliberately losing, and Essendon during the drug scandal. It is true that other clubs threw matches for early draft picks and other teams have taken part in dubious medical programs to gain a competitive advantage.
But no one tanked more blatantly and damagingly than the Demons and no one experimented more dangerously with their players’ bodies over a sustained period than the Bombers and with such heart-breaking consequences. And while Adelaide’s misdemeanour was next to nothing by comparison, no one has yet exposed another club for training together at an out-of-town camp in such large numbers.
It is true that elite Australian rules footballers are being asked to observe stricter protocols than most other people while bringing the game back to our living rooms and the game and the public appreciate them. They deserve the admiration of the competition for moving with such flexibility to bring it back from this disturbing hibernation.
But here is one way to avoid being caught out breaking social distancing regulations. Don’t place yourselves or others at risk. Do your job and don’t break the rules. It’s not that hard.
Caroline Wilson is a Walkley award-winning columnist and former chief football writer for The Age.