OP ED – South Australia’s AFL Clubs Must Embrace Democracy

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OP ED – South Australia’s AFL Clubs Must Embrace Democracy

20 August 2020

It is sometimes said that the mood of South Australians and the trajectory of their working week can be measured by the performance of their two AFL clubs the Adelaide Football Club (the Crows) and the Port Adelaide Football Club (the Power).

Over the last decade, the Crows have been plagued with scandals including a salary cap breach, the continual loss of senior players to rival clubs and the highly contentious team off season camp which split the playing group down the middle.

The club members (also known as the people who fill the stadium, buy the merchandise, and pay the bills) have a right to be upset. The problem is, there is just not much they can do much about it other than complain.

It would surprise many South Australians to learn that since 2014 the Victorian dominated AFL has had control of both of South Australia’s AFL clubs.

Under the Crows constitution, the AFL appoints seven of its nine directors and has sole voting rights over all matters at annual general meetings. The two remaining board members are elected by a portion of the club’s 80,000 members.

Earlier in the year an AFL spokesman stated that “The AFL has constitutional control of a number of clubs across the competition including the Adelaide Crows. The day to day running of those clubs is governed by their individual boards and executive management teams.” This is not democracy.

The Power’s constitution is similarly framed with 2 directors elected by the membership and 8 appointed by the AFL.

Interstate clubs are a mixed bag but are overall more democratic and more successful, at least in recent times.

The Geelong Football Club has 8 board members, 7 of whom are elected by the members of the club while the Western Bulldogs, Essendon and Hawthorn Football Clubs also have a majority of elected directors on their boards.

Despite being AFL controlled, both of South Australia’s AFL clubs rely on Federal and State government grants.

The Crows were promised $15 million from the Federal government to fund a new training center in 2019 and $275,000 from the State government for its AFLW team in 2018.

The Power was allocated $4 million from the Federal government in 2017 for a state-of-the-art center to foster Aboriginal leadership and $350,000 in 2019 from the State Government for the naming rights to their match in China. These are but a few examples.

Taxpayers’ funds should not be doled out to any such organisation which does not abide by the basic rules of the democratic system upon which those funds were raised.

Democratic principles ensure that the will of the people provides the framework for success due in the main to the basic premise of accountability. Accountability is the disinfectant for the ills of poor governance.

Democracies are accountable, while centrally controlled organisations are not burdened by such constraints. There is no dissent, no accountability and therefore no need to practice sounds principles of governance.

Our nation values democracy. It is the bedrock of our society. The same must be said of our sporting organisations. Democracy cannot be thrown to one side simply because it is not convenient to face elections.

It is for this reason that I have written to the Federal Minister for Youth and Sport and the South Australian State Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing to indicate that I believe that public funds should not be allocated to either club until such time as their constitutions are amended to allow their boards to be democratically elected.

I have suggested that those funds be directed towards local and community football clubs which elect their boards democratically and respect the will of the grassroots fans.

The boards of our South Australian AFL clubs should be elected by their members, not appointed over a lunch at the Adelaide Club. The people who pay their memberships and who live and die at the hands of the teams’ fortunes deserve to be heard.

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