By Mehroz Siraj
The Chief Executive Officer of the AFL Commission, Andrew Demetriou has denied earlier reports published in News Limited papers which alleged that despite serving a suspension, former Essendon player and coach James Hird was on the payroll of the AFL or the club.
In a letter that was directly addressed to the senior managements of the 18 football clubs in the country, Demetriou emphasised that the as part of the suspension, Hird was not legally entitled to remain on the payrolls of either the AFL or the Essendon football club.
“In our view, the coverage in the News Limited publications does not provide any significant new information,” Demetriou wrote in that letter, saying that many of the details that News Limited’s newspapers had published only recently, had already been put onto the public record by other Australian newspaper groups.
The paper’s core storyline that the chief of the Australian Sports Commission, John Wylie, was a powerful figure throughout the investigation was old news, Demetriou said.
He pointed out that Wylie’s involvement into the entire investigation was first reported by Fairfax newspapers in September.
In its landmark reporting on the issue on December 3 and 4, the Melbourne Herald Sun had claimed that considering the sensitivity of the situation, the AFL tried to bribe the Bombers management and Hird away from taking legal action that risked jeopardising the approaching football finals.
In closed room negotiations, Essendon chief Paul Little was allegedly told by Wylie and the AFL Commission’s Mike Fitzpatrick that Hird’s ‘legend’ status within the AFL’s Hall of Fame would remain untouched if the club withdrew its request for the continuation of legal proceedings, the paper reported.
The paper also detailed that Little was promised by the AFL that none of the club’s players would be handed down suspension notices if he stepped back from the club’s stated objective of seeing through the legal hearings.
Demetriou also insisted that the AFL had investigated Essendon with full competency and rigour.
He denied any behind the scenes arm-twisting, saying that the investigations were fair and impartial.
“Without detailing the cut and thrust of those discussions, they were held in good faith at a number of levels and were always appropriate,” Demetriou wrote in the letter.
Demetriou noted that the penalties which were handed down to the Bombers were amongst the toughest to be ever delivered in the history of Australian sport.
Denying various allegations of bringing Australian football into disrepute, Demetriou argued that it was the duty and responsibility of the AFL Commission to ensure that the game and the clubs were being administered and governed correctly.
“It is the role of the AFL Commission and administration to oversee the health and safety of all players, the integrity of the AFL competition and the rules governing the game,” Demetriou wrote in the letter.