The AFL has a lot of skeletons in its closet. A footy-player’s death, draft-tampering, tanking, drink-driving (and an arrest warrant), loopholes in anti-drug regulations (and drug abuse and depression connected with it) and illegal supplements from a shady club scientist, all in this current off-season. All we need now is a betting scandal and maybe a case of sexual abuse on top of that and we’ll have all of the sport’s problems down-pat.
There needs to be a culture change in the AFL. Players need to stop behaving like they’re entitled to whatever they want because they’re good at what they do (while fans should stop treating them as idols and reinforcing that mindset). Club directors and managers need to stop doing whatever they can do, at any cost, to get a competitive advantage for their team. And the League has to stop treating its clubs and its players as products and brands and showing preferences for some over others.
The AFL and Indigenous communities have to continue their strong co-operation with each other to help Aboriginal players deal with the pressures of being in the public spotlight in order to become strong role models for other young aspiring Indigenous footy players. This, in my opinion, has been something of a strong point of the AFL, as it has been a leading figure in helping the integration of Indigenous Australians into contemporary Australian society on the whole. It is the one arena I can think of where the average Australian has supported, and even idolised, Aboriginals for their skill and prowess and devotion to the game that we all have a mutual love for. Both sides need to continue strengthening their mutually beneficial relationship.
There are major problems in the AFL right now; it is going through something of a crisis. It is going down a slippery slope that will lead it down a path tread by other sporting codes tarnished by internal problems and criminal conduct. These codes have made it virtually unbearable to follow without becoming fundamentally skeptical about the level of sportsmanship in the game.
The AFL community – not only the League Administration itself, but the clubs, players, sponsors and fans too – needs to learn to adapt to these problems and force them out. It needs to learn from the mistakes and inabilities of other sporting codes. And I highlight the need for fans to be part of this revolution. It is not enough to just demand that the professionals change; we must be the catalyst for change in them. It is, after all, our money and consumption that keeps the business, I mean game, alive.