AFL tanking investigation result

Just when you thought the AFL couldn’t get any better, or more accurately, worse, they manage to outdo themselves yet again.

The official verdict from on high is that Melbourne didn’t tank.  But they have been fined $500,000, and former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey and then football chief Chris Connolly have been sanctioned for their words and deeds in the period under investigation.

So to reiterate, Melbourne didn’t tank, but the club itself and it’s most senior footy department employees did engage in “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the AFL” during the period investigated by former Federal Police. And that behaviour is worthy of a sum that amounts to about 1/18th of the Dees entire salary cap for the year to come.

What exactly could they have done that was so unbecoming as to cost them equivalent of what they’d probably be paying their best player this year if indeed it wasn’t tanking?

Let us interrogate the Jesuitical logic of Gillon McLachlan:

“The evidence suggests, and Dean Bailey agreed …. he made decisions to ultimately appease Chris. He made decisions to rest players. All three parties, Melbourne FC, Dean Bailey and Chris Connolly have accepted the sanctions.

“There is no evidence to suggest Dean Bailey or any players went out to lose games on match day …. Dean Bailey rested players who were available to play and played players out of position.”

Essentially McLachlan says that Melbourne did not deliberately lose games on matchday. That is, they didn’t all keep kicking it backwards and rushing it through for the opposition until the score was Opponents 256 – Melbourne 0.

But they do say that Melbourne engaged in “conduct prejudicial” in the LEAD UP to games. But according to McLachlan, this is not tanking. The mind boggles.

There are those Dees fans and hierarchy who will see this as a good result. I disagree. Either they tanked or they didn’t. This doesn’t clear their name. It is like that mystifying relic of history that remains in Scottish law: the “not proven” verdict.

It is my belief that Melbourne tanked in 2009. I’m hardly alone there. But the reality is that in the quasi-judicial process as entered into by the AFL belief is not enough. Proof is required.

As the AFL admits in its own statement, it cannot prove there was a directive at Melbourne in order to lose games and it cannot prove on matchday there was a plan to lose. Thus, Melbourne are cleared and walk out the front door. That’s how it is.

The mealy mouthed cowardice displayed by the AFL in trying to have its cake and eat it too – by fining the club and slapping sanctions on Connolly and Bailey they no doubt feel they will be seen to have done something – will only make things far worse down the track. Natural justice has not been served.

Melbourne will forever carry the stain of having engaged in “conduct prejudicial to the interest of the AFL” – whatever that may be, and most of us will just continue in our belief they tanked – in the 2009 season. Dean Bailey is suspended for 16 weeks and has professional name besmirched for  essentially doing what coaches will do every week this season, rest players or perhaps play somebody out of position. In AFL land anyway.

Chris Connolly cops a year long suspension for basically being a tool. According to the AFL he: “acted in a manner concerning pre-game planning, comprising comments to a football department meeting, which was prejudicial to the interests of the AFL.”

No, either he directed the coach to try and lose a game by his selections and coaching, or he didn’t. No grey area.

Everybody knows that the cover up always makes things worse. And this is what the AFL is doing here: engaging in a cover up.  They should either have found Melbourne guilty of tanking and whacked them hard.

Or they should have exonerated them fully, but been crystal clear about what would and wouldn’t constitute tanking, so no club could be under any doubt.

Instead, the AFL has merely extended the grey area on the matter unto infinity. If Bailey cops a whack for “resting players”, should Mark Harvey not get the same for his infamous decision to rest half the Freo team before the game against Hawthorn in 2011?

And if resting players who are fit is “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the AFL” and worthy of a 16 week ban, then surely running such a shoddy footy department that ASADA are forced to investigate what is being injected into your players, because you don’t know, is worth … who knows what?

Make no mistake, the AFL, in their attempt to be cute, have made things worse with this decision. Instead of facing up to the tanking saga, they have simply kicked it down the road to get bigger and uglier and lie in wait to pounce again, as it surely will.