By Mehroz Siraj
After eleven years of heading Australia’s leading sports body as its Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Demetriou announced that he would be resigning at the end of the 2014 season of Australian football.
He made the announcement at a media conference on March 3, just days after speculations of his impending resignation were widely reported in the media.
The announcement, which came just a day after the Herald Sun published the names of fourteen Essendon players who were being investigated by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, ASADA, in connection to the ongoing investigations into the clubs drugs and supplements programmes.
Demetriou was heavily criticised for dealing leniently with Essendon throughout the preliminary investigation period that stretched throughout 2013.
However, citing the circumstances and available resources of the time he strongly defended the League’s response to the drugs and supplements scandal saying that it was strong, timely and pertinent.
“Whether we could have acted earlier or we just were not in a position there. There was enough hearsay to have us worried,” he said in an emotional manner, adding that it was impossible for the League to show any partisanship in order to keep important stakeholders happy.
“The AFL has done all it can do in this situation. I am proud of how we acted last year,” he said.
“We have enhanced the anti-doping code. What happens thereafter is in ASADA’s hands. We are well equipped with any issue going forward,” he informed, suggesting that the League was serious about addressing the issue of doping and drugs abuse by players and game officials.
Other than the Essendon drugs saga, Demetriou’s reign of eleven years as the AFL supremo had seen many other high and low points.
While he was criticised for allowing the American band Meatloaf to perform at the 2011 grand final, his vision of seeing the game spread nationally and globally has been appreciated by many people within the football industry.
According to details published on afl.com.au, the League’s media mouthpiece, under his watch, new world class stadiums have been built nationally at a cost of over $2billion.
These new stadiums have brought along with them, a near 8 per cent per annum increase in crowd attendances and gate receipts as crowd numbers grew from 5.8million in 2003, to 6.9million in 2013.
Over the same period, the League’s revenues increased from $171million to $446.5million, according to the website.
The addition of the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney (GWS) has proven to be a successful gamble for Demetriou.
Under his watch and leadership, the first ever game for premiership points was played on international soil last year, when St Kilda played Sydney at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand.
He also played a lead role in negotiating two mighty television rights deals, worth over $2billion, which would see an even greater increase in the League’s revenues in the future.
Citing all these achievements of Demetriou, Collingwood Football Club President, Eddie McGuire said that without the former’s vision and commitment towards managing the game with integrity, Australia’s premier sport would not have grown as quickly as it did.
While he praised Demetriou’s efforts towards opening up the game for immigrants, women and indigenous Australians, he said that new stadiums and the addition of the Suns and GWS had enabled clubs to select players from numerous backgrounds.
“The game will be in a better situation when he (Demetriou) leaves, as against when he became the CEO,” McGuire told Fox Sports.
Demetriou also received glowing praise from his close colleague and AFL Commission Chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick.
“For me, the real strength of Demetriou’s leadership been his determination to give our game an ethical underpinning, a conscience: by promoting the role of women at all levels of our game,” he said, adding that women were playing an important roles in managing the day to day operations of all football clubs.
He also added that due to Demetriou’s leadership, efforts and globalized vision for the game, Australia’s immigrants and indigenous people were now contributing to the game at all levels, including managerial positions within the football industry.
However, renowned football analyst Gerard Whateley and former Hawthorn Football Club President Jeff Kennett did not consider Fitzpatrick and Demetriou as much praiseworthy.
Whateley said that in hindsight, Demetriou’s legacy as an administrator would be determined by the final outcome of the Essendon drugs scandal.
He however added that many within Australia’s football media had already questioned the League’s handling of the 2012 Adelaide salary cap breaches and the tanking allegations that were levelled against the Melbourne Demons.
“There was a lack of transparency in the Adelaide case; there was a lack of sense in what happened at Melbourne; and there are still all manners of dispute over the Essendon situation, which is unresolved,” he told ABC Radio.
He further added that the League’s inability to deal with these three major scandals over two seasons will dent and tarnish Demetriou’s legacy in the long term.
These views were supported by Kennett as well.
Kennett told the Melbourne radio station, News Talk 3AW, that he initially expected Demetriou to resign before Christmas of last year.
A vocal critic of the League’s governance of the game, he has severely criticised the organization, along with Demetriou and Fitzpatrick in their handlings of the scandals that have afflicted the game in recent years.
“I hope Mike Fitzpatrick is also resigning because the AFL commission has been far from active, far from good at upholding good governance and the AFL commission has accepted no responsibility itself for the failing of the code over the last three years,” he said.
He further said that he believed that the game’s national and global growth would be adversely affected if the governance structures created by Fitzpatrick and Demetriou were not reformed soon.