Meddling Hands

On Tuesday the Herald Sun ran with this particular article.

Reaction, as can be seen in the article itself, was overwhelmingly negative. AFL Chief Andrew Demetriou was quick to get on the front foot, dismissing the article as poor journalism and saying he had been asked a hypothetical question and his response had been construed to imply the league was actually trying to get Franklin to the Giants. This is all well and good, except that in his rebuttal Demetriou effectively confirmed the aspect everyone was up in arms about anyway.

While a fired-up Demetriou confirmed the AFL could make Franklin an ambassador, he said the League would play no part in supplying any incentive for the Hawks star to leave the club.

“If they were to procure him and our commercial people came to me and said he would be good value as an ambassador then we would consider it,” Demetriou told SEN on Tuesday morning.

“But under no circumstance is the AFL interested in inducing any player to go to any other club; we wouldn’t do it.”

I love this. We’re not saying we’d help GWS secure Franklin. Not at all. What we are saying is that if he just happened to choose to go to GWS, then we would consider paying him an additional stack of money. I don’t know how clever Franklin is but I’m sure he or somebody close to him could join those dots together. If this interview was broadcast on television you can just picture Demetriou staring down the middle of the camera, smiling and winking, while Franklin watched from his living room.

Demetriou insists the AFL does not help clubs lure players away from other clubs, and in the same sentence states that the league would consider paying him as an ambassador if he joined a particular club. It’s either very brazen or horrifically clumsy. How can such a concession be seen as anything but a lure? If he happened to join this club, then we would consider paying him additional money. No promises though.

The qualifier that the ambassador question wouldn’t be addressed until after he signed is irrelevant. The seed has been planted. Franklin knows that if he chose to leave Hawthorn for the Giants, then there is a possibility he could get paid by both the Giants and the AFL. It’s farcical. It’s a joke, and Hawthorn, its fans, and I think football fans in general, have grounds to be concerned. It doesn’t even matter if Franklin leaves Hawthorn or not. It doesn’t even matter if he joins the Giants and doesn’t receive money from the AFL. What matters is he said it, and whether he intended to or not, he has provided additional incentive for Franklin to consider the Giants.

Why is Demetriou talking about it? Why are they commenting on player movement? They shouldn’t be talking about where they hope players play. They shouldn’t be talking about what could potentially happen if player x joins club y. They shouldn’t be sticking their nose in it. They are meant to oversee and administer the competition, but they seem to be getting more and more involved these days. It’s a competition. We have some teams, we have some rules. We let them compete, we step in when something particularly egregious happens, but for the most part we sit back with these predefined parameters and we see what happens. Instead the competition feels more and more like a reality television show. It operates under the guise of reality, but there are clearly visible strings and they are always being pulled. Some contestants are getting more screen time than others, the rules apply to some but not others, and the producers are giving a helping hand to some at the expense of others.

The whole “ambassador” issue is just another example of administrative meddling. Why do we need ambassadors? Why does the AFL need to pay certain players to be ambassadors? Why does the AFL consider paying players to be ambassadors when they play for specific clubs or in specific markets? What does an ambassador do? Surely the players themselves are “ambassadors” for the game anyway. Surely Franklin can be an ambassador for the game at any club? Why does he have to be at a particular club before an additional ambassador payment is considered?

In fact why is the league paying any player? The clubs pay the players. The fact the league even considers for a second, let alone actually does, pay players extra money outside of the salary cap for merely playing for a particular team or in a particular area, is offensive to the notion of an even competition. It doesn’t matter what guise they do it under, or what justification is offered, it’s wrong. It was wrong for the league to pay Folau any money outside of the Giants’ Total Player Payments Cap under the justification of growing the game in Western Sydney. It is wrong of the league to do the same with Hunt at the Gold Coast, and it was wrong of the league to pay Lockett money when he joined Sydney all those years ago. It doesn’t matter how important Sydney, or any suburb, city or state is to the game, as it is far less important than the integrity of the league.

If the league is going to directly or indirectly influence players joining certain clubs then we may as well not have a competition. If the league is going to manipulate mechanisms like the draft, player payments and player payment caps, in order to engineer particular outcomes, then what is the point of everyone else playing along? These things exist in order to keep the competition as even as possible. What is the point of having them if the AFL breaches their intent whenever it suits them?

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