Demetriou’s undeserved legacy

4 March 2014

Written by:

Up until the infamous press conference that was labelled the ‘blackest day in Australian sport’, Andrew Demetriou’s influence on the AFL was profound. His impact on Australian rules football has been overwhelmingly positive, as the game has grown considerably since he took the reins at the end of the 2003 season.

In light of his resignation, which is due to take effect at the end of the 2014 season, it’s important to note that Demetriou’s guidance of the AFL heralded some drastic progressive movements.

In 2009 and 2010, two licences were granted to Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney to form an 18-team competition. The AFL’s stranglehold in the rugby heartlands would intensify when Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau expressed their intentions to defect to the AFL’s newest franchises.

In 2011, the largest broadcast rights deal was announced when Channel 7, Foxtel and Telstra combined for a five-year, $1.253 billion package – something previously unheard of in Australian sport. These heights far surpassed their rival codes and allowed for the commercial component of the game to

In terms of the hard product, the stadia around the country are among the best in the world. He signed off on the deal to help South Australian football relocate from AAMI Stadium to the state-of-the-art Adelaide Oval.

Players and fans are exposed to world-class facilities and this ties into the Demetriou philosophy of making the game accessible to everyone.

Not only that, but he has grown the AFL’s revenue from $170.9 million in 2003, to $446.5 million last year. Brushing aside the Meatloaf “incident” of 2011, the outgoing AFL boss led a competent regime.

However that changed in the wake of the Essendon Football Club’s role in one of the darkest revelations to come out of world sport. The AFL Commission charged the club with conduct unbecoming and bringing the game into disrepute. The scandal, which included the administration of banned substances, severely crippled the league’s image and the image of the man at the helm.

To this day, the speculation mounts and questions were raised with Demetriou regarding the timing of the decision to call it quits.

By no means should Demetriou be held solely responsible for the mistakes of a negligent few, but as the leader of the AFL the buck stops with him. As is the nature of such a demanding job, with great power comes great responsibility and Demetriou definitely felt the full brunt of that last year. He had a responsibility to the game, its players and the fans to punish those who knowingly pushed the boundaries too far.

With numerous steps forward Demetriou oversaw in his ten years, the Essendon scandal was an unfortunate step back. The influence of drugs in world sport has been apparent – some say it’s unavoidable – with cycling and athletics seeing many athletes banned and disgracing their disciplines.

The growth of the AFL into the rich and thriving business it is now is nothing short of remarkable. However with all the praise that Demetriou deserves, it is the Essendon saga that is overshadowing an otherwise impressive tenure.

Demetriou has mentioned that his aim was to always leave the game in a better position than when he started. The evidence is overwhelming that Demetriou’s time as the AFL CEO is a success. Unfortunately his legacy will always be associated with the most controversial scandal in AFL history.

Sean Munaweera is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) student at La Trobe University. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_muna