Departure rocks unstable league
ADRIAN Anderson's shock departure from one of the most influential roles in Australian sport comes at a critical time for the AFL and was directly linked to his boss Andrew Demetriou's controversial decision to nominate another executive colleague, Gillon McLachlan, as his successor.
Anderson has been considering his future at the game's head office for much of the season in the belief Demetriou's support for him was not quite what he had hoped and that the AFL chief was looking at splitting his role and therefore diluting his influence.
As he handled a series of dramatic football issues and was assured by chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and his commission that he had their support, Anderson concluded his future at the AFL was not as bright as Fitzpatrick had often predicted.
Adrian Anderson's departure will not help the lack of diversity at head office. Photo: Pat Scala
After nine years, it was time to move on from one of the game's most thankless jobs.
And yet Anderson's resignation came as a complete surprise to many of his colleagues. It comes as the AFL remains under fire for its strange leniency to the deceptive and rule-breaking Adelaide chief executive Steven Trigg. It comes as Melbourne remains under investigation for tanking - an investigation which Melbourne remains emphatic it will fight every step of the way.
It comes following the commission's rejection of his recommendation to place a cap on interchange bench rotations next season. It comes following McLachlan's strangely public but ultimately failed courtship with the NRL - a courtship which ended with McLachlan more certain than ever to replace Demetriou. This despite the commission's ongoing insistence that the AFL board of directors - and not Demetriou - will appoint the next chief executive.
And it comes as the AFL's illicit drugs policy - the policy Anderson revolutionised - is again under fire following the revelation by Collingwood chief Gary Pert that he has knowledge of amphetamine dealing among players between clubs, along with allegations of senior players not only regularly taking illegal drugs but passing them on to younger players.
Anderson is the third member of Demetriou's executive team to depart since the end of the season. His resignation follows the mysterious removal of the AFL's strategic and club services boss Andrew Catterall, a departure that has remained cloaked in secrecy and was initially portrayed as a decision by Catterall to take long-service leave.
In fact, the AFL was forced to show its brash young executive the door after Catterall's workplace behaviour made his position untenable. His treatment of staff sealed his fate despite his reputation as among the smartest operators among Demetriou's team.
The AFL's human resources chief, Christina Ogg, simultaneously ''resigned'' in October. Demetriou's regime has not been known for its promotion of women unless the role concerned is HR and despite Demetriou being at the helm for almost a decade, Ogg was the first and only woman on his executive. Now she is gone with both Ogg and the AFL dissatisfied with each other.
That Catterall's head-butting style was tolerated for as long as it was and ended badly does not reflect well upon Demetriou's leadership. That a sporting organisation that justifiably promotes itself as the best and most powerful in the land has such a lack of diversity among its executive is also a cause for concern.
The AFL is an organisation proud of - and determined to improve - its relationship with women and yet few women have truly flourished under Demetriou's leadership. Sue Clark, the one-time senior policewoman, would seem to be the exception and is in line for promotion now Anderson has created another vacancy.
Demetriou went out of his way at the start of the season to back his most senior indigenous staffer Jason Mifsud when the latter spectacularly misfired but, again, it is telling that the great indigenous game of Australian rules boasts so few influential indigenous officials; assistant coaches you can count with one hand and no executives.
Anderson's departure will not help the lack of diversity at head office. He is not the first football operations boss to be overlooked for the top job - Ian Collins and Alan Schwab were notably cast aside - but he broke the mould.
Anderson's initial uncomfortable public style and long-winded process-driven nature did not endear him to an industry used to dealing with Demetriou and Collins and their colourful language and instinctive quick thinking. Some clubs will be happy to see him go.
And yet he came into his pivotal role as an unmarried 31-year-old barrister and departs it a 40-year-old married father of three who should be considered for leading sporting roles not only within Australia but internationally.
Anderson deserves a key place in the history of the game and for all the right reasons. He revolutionised the rules with an obsessive eye towards safety and quality and radically improved the on-field judicial process.
His obsession with the game's integrity was at the forefront of Australian sport and he worked tirelessly against the tide at times - notably where gambling was concerned as the AFL's commercial agreements collided with Anderson's vigilant team and its philosophies.
To be fair, Demetriou empowered him to pick up the ball and run with it across his portfolio. To be equally fair, Demetriou backed him and demonstrated unfailing loyalty during the tough early years, shouting down those clubs who campaigned against Anderson.
His key investigator Brett Clothier could also be in line for promotion should Anderson's portfolio indeed be split and there will be a strong and justifiable push from clubs to appoint an executive from a club background to take over the football operations of the AFL.
Clearly Demetriou has some big decisions as he rebuilds his depleted executive. Anderson's long-serving football lieutenant Rod Austin also resigned in October while the meticulous accountant style of the other Anderson - long-serving finance boss Ian - continues to frustrate his colleagues.
There is no doubt McLachlan became even more acutely aware of a number of key relationship problems during his time standing in for Demetriou and even brought some issues to a head.
That Demetriou was permitted to spend one-third of the season out of the country remains a mystery when you consider the problematic Greater Western Sydney was making its AFL debut. He has certainly paid for it since his return.
Since the season ended, clubs have pushed for urgent summits on the illegal drugs crisis and the alarming struggles of a number of poorer clubs.
The league is quietly negotiating to buy Etihad Stadium for the right price.
Fitzpatrick's pronouncement six months ago that his chief executive had ''unfinished business'' now seems like an understatement. Unless Demetriou decides that he, too, has had enough.