Gold Coast chairman John Witheriff. Photo: Paul Harris
Gold Coast chairman John Witheriff has questioned the AFL’s values and accused it of a lack of courtesy in the decision to review the bidding system for development academy players and father-son selections.
Witheriff, accusing the AFL of going back on its word, has joined the growing chorus of northern club chiefs disenchanted that head office could redesign the bidding rules for academy players just months before the national draft, following heavy pressure from Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.
In unprecedented public criticism from the league’s fledgling expansion club, Witheriff revealed he held talks this week with AFL chiefs, urging them to keep their promise on academies. He told Fairfax Media: ''The commission needs to understand the implications of what it’s doing.
''This is not a direct problem for us because we don’t have any academy players in the immediate or short term we would be taking for early selections. But the part that causes me concern is a values-based issue.
''Certain promises were made regarding regulatory benefits for clubs and held out as an inducement to invest significant money, talent and intellectual property into developing the game in non-traditional markets.
''As a result, our club did what it had to do. Now, just when the fruits of some clubs’ labours are coming into play, you look at changing the rules. It’s simply not fair.''
The Suns invest $300,000 annually into their talent academy on top of the AFL's annual injection of $250,000 which it contributes to each of the four northern academies.
Witheriff’s comments followed Sydney chief Andrew Ireland’s threat to dilute the Swans’ $1 million commitment to the Sydney academy following the AFL’s decision to review the bidding system in the wake of top draft prospect Isaac Heeney.
On Tuesday the Gold Coast chairman met his list management team, all of whom expressed grave disenchantment with what is being perceived in both Sydney and southern Queensland as a direct response to heavy pressure from the wealthy clubs, led by Collingwood.
Ireland said on 3AW on Tuesday the response from the AFL was knee jerk and pointed out the hypocrisy of a pure draft when the wealthy Magpies could outbid other clubs for international project players.
The northern clubs remain furious that they were not included in any discussions with head office over the proposed academy bidding system changes, which will also apply to father-son selections.
Last week's meeting at AFL headquarters of the equalisation working
party saw McGuire dominate the discussion with the topic of academies
taking up most of the meeting. McGuire received support from the other
clubs present including the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide in the
view that the league must nip in the bud potential zoning advantages
to club's in the two pioneer states.
The AFL has said it has been working on a review of the bidding system for more than six months, a claim about which the Swans, Giants, Suns and Brisbane Lions remain skeptical.
None of those clubs was represented in the equalisation talks with
clubs from every other football state taking part. The clubs remain
disappointed they have not been consulted.
In June, Geelong president Colin Carter accused the AFL of caving in to pressure from McGuire in its failure to tax the richest clubs in proportion to their wealth. The Collingwood president stormed out of an equalisation meeting early this year and later had to be convinced in an after-hours visit to his home by outgoing league chief Andrew Demetriou to sign the 18-club agreement.
Ireland said he had still not been in contact with the AFL over the new academy proposal. His club incurred the wrath of the AFL and its clubs when it landed Lance Franklin in the richest long-term deal in the game’s history.
Since then, the Swans have seen their cost-of-living allowance reduced in the name of equalisation and could now see their position in the draft pushed back through the selection of Heeney.
However, Gold Coast has mounted its significant protest on the basis of the AFL reneging on a deal.
''Our issues need to be communicated,'' said Witheriff. ''It is just straight basic courtesy. This is a simple proposition where we are concerned, and to change the rules now is just unfair.''