AFL's war with sports scientists
Dr Hugh Seward. Photo: Ken Irwin
THE AFL has unofficially declared war on the game's high performance managers in the growing frustration that their influence at some clubs is running out of control.
AFL football operations boss Adrian Anderson last night confirmed that he would address all 18 coaches to reinforce the seniority of club doctors over sports scientists. The move will come at next week's coaches conference after senior AFL doctors protested that they were being overruled in certain cases, potentially endangering player health and safety.
Added AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou: ''It should be very clear at all clubs that where there is a medical issue the doctor has the final say.'' Demetriou's view is understood to come with a strong backing of the AFL Commission.
The Age understands that the league has become increasingly frustrated at the manner in which highly paid sports scientists have hijacked major recent issues ranging from NAB Cup procedures to the debate over the interchange bench.
The biggest concern at head office has been the worrying practice at some clubs where doctors now defer to their high performance team. Anderson said the issue was first raised late last year at the conference of the 18 club chief executives where AFL Medical Officers' Association chief Hugh Seward - on behalf of the club doctors - and senior AFL medico Harry Unglik put forward their concerns.
''Sports scientists, high performance managers, whatever you want to call them, have a very legitimate and important role to play in the game,'' said Anderson. ''But we need to make it clear that doctors are the only ones qualified to be making medical decisions.
''We're talking about issues such as when a player can return from injury, what sort of treatment occurs, diagnostics. It is very important to make this clear from a medical perspective where the players' safety and welfare are concerned and also for medical legal reasons. We'd hate to have a situation where a decision was made on a player's medical condition by someone who wasn't a doctor and that player decided to take legal action quite apart from his welfare.''
Anderson also pointed out that it was within the AFL rules that medical decisions regarding players must rest with club doctors.
''We know all clubs have different structures,'' added Anderson, ''regardless of those structures the clubs need to be careful as to who has the final say. We may see a day where doctors can be employed full-time at clubs.''
The Age understands there is also a fear that senior doctors are leaving the game disenchanted at the increasing influence of club sport science teams and are also worried that clubs are prepared to pay six-figure sums to sports science experts and yet are not prepared to pay doctors full-time wages, meaning that most club doctors must also run other practices.
A final straw for the AFL came last week when Essendon blamed its fitness and recovery advice on the decision to fly to Wangaratta for a pre-season game when the bus journey would have taken 2½ hours. Some clubs pay as much as $300,000 for a respected high performance manager.
The issue has also raised eyebrows at the AFL Players Association, which last year invited Seward, Geelong's former club doctor, and the Cats' high performance expert to address the players on the issue. The AFL regards the Geelong model as among the best practice the game has on offer. Anderson said he would address the coaches on the eve of next week's season launch in Sydney alongside Seward and Unglik.