Caroline Wilson dissects Andrew Demetriou's AFL legacy
Although Andrew Demetriou's decision to resign from one of the most "powerful jobs in Australian sport" was not a surprise, the timing of the announcement was, says chief football writer Caroline Wilson.PT0M0S 620 349
- Australian sport's reputation blackened: Abbott
- AFL chairman should go too: Kennett
- Andrew Demetriou to step down as AFL CEO
Andrew Demetriou’s long-anticipated and impeccably-timed resignation was punctuated with emotion, humour and a characteristic verbal whack when the subject of his legacy was inevitably linked with the Essendon drugs scandal.
The AFL chief executive, whose successor could be named as early as May, has declared a wish to serve out the 2014 football season, demanded and received great loyalty from his staff who became emboldened themselves by a leader they regarded as fearless.
Andrew Demetriou. Photo: Penny Stephens
Even Demetriou’s fellow commissioners enjoyed his press conferences - despite the odd misstep - as much as anything and they would not have been disappointed by his first farewell performance on Monday morning at AFL headquarters.
The chief executive, who joined the AFL first as its football boss in 2000, will vacate the role which has become the most powerful in Australian sport, was questioned about whether he should be blamed at all for Essendon’s dangerous drug program.
‘‘No,’’ declared Demetriou, ‘‘because I’ll tell you what I didn’t do - I never injected anyone. And all I know (about) what we did was as a game (we) always put the players first to protect the integrity of the game.’’
Andrew Demetriou at Monday's announcement. Photo: Penny Stephens
When pressed later about his own level of culpability Demetriou was firmer: ‘‘I do not accept any responsibility for people who seek to infiltrate the game, who inject young men with god knows what substances, to introduce substances which are abhorrent to the game and to families.’’
Demetriou became emotional when he talked about those loved ones and colleagues he had lost during his time in the game’s administration - his first wife Jan Bassett, mother Chrysi, former AFL chairman Ron Evans, ground operations boss Jill Lindsay and Jim Stynes. Wife Symone and their four children, whom he described as his greatest achievement and who all attended his farewell press conference, he said were his ‘‘sunshine’’. When he told his children on Sunday night he was stepping down their first question was whether they could still go to the football.
But Demetriou became close to tears when referring to the football family and the people in the game. Even his generally unemotional chairman Mike Fitzpatrick wiped away something resembling a tear at that point.
Having been directed by the commission to groom a successor, Demetriou has achieved that in his deputy Gillon McLachlan, who impressed the AFL board when he took over the reins during Demetriou’s long service leave of 2012.
McLachlan also played the pivotal role in negotiations which saw the redevelopment of Adelaide Oval as an AFL venue - an achievement which will see the season launched there on Wednesday and which Demetriou described as his greatest professional effort given the degree of difficulty involving the South Australian football body, the cricket association and the state government.
But McLachlan’s reputation was not enhanced when he was placed in charge of standing in judgment over Melbourne following the tanking investigation, nor by the messy completion of the Essendon negotiation. The Kim Williams appointment to the commission would seem good for McLachlan who does not yet boast its unanimous support.
The commission has not guaranteed McLachlan the job and appointed an executive search team to test the market for Demetriou’s successor long before he told Fitzpatrick at the 2014 Super Bowl that he would officially resign in early March.
Demetriou has been a remarkable leader of Australia’s greatest and most successful football code. The game is certainly more dominant and far wealthier than when he took over and, according to his chairman, he has given the game a conscience.
But should his long-serving deputy, who knocked back the NRL job in early 2013, fail to succeed him then McLachlan too would leave. That would leave a massive hole at the competition’s governing body and the game at the crossroads.