AFL power brokers work the numbers to break commission glass ceiling as
clubs are divided over moves to secure the appointment of football’s
first female AFL Commissioner.
It doesn’t seem that long ago Melbourne Football club became one of the
first board’s under former president Joe Gutnick, to appoint an AFL
female director, Beverly O’Connor, thus forcing the player’s locker
room to undergo it’s own velvet revolution.

Now there are a number highly-valued female board members scatted
around the AFL, and talk of “tokenism” you would assume is a thing of
the past. Except it seems when progressive thinkers at the
highest level in the league’s hierarchy starting with AFL Commission
chairman Ron Evans and his CEO Andrew Demetriou, decided the time is
long past when the commission can afford to remain a female free
zone. Until now Victorian club politics and the reluctance of any
board members to step down to make way for a female nomination, meant
such reform of the commission didn’t just run into a glass ceiling but
a very defensive brick wall.

But so determined was Evans to finally bring the clubs along even if
some are kicking and screaming, that he’s tired of waiting for a
current director to become a sacrificial lamb to reform the
commission’s gender imbalance. So now he and Demetriou believe
the necessity for change has become so vital to the league’s future
administration, they now propose the 16 AFL clubs vote to expand the
eight member commission to nine, and then set about appointing a woman
to the new vacancy. To set this in motion it will require a
simple club majority of nine votes from 16.

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But wanting and getting in the less than transparent world of AFL
politics is never simple, and so the two senior league wheeler dealers
are now busy inveigling a majority of the clubs to support their
campaign. As things stand, their greatest barrier is overcoming
the traditional battle cry of those opposed to a female presence in the
game’s inner sanctum, who believes it smacks of tokenism. But
then such an argument isn’t really about the league finding a
professional woman who will bring a great deal to the league’s future
deliberations – so much as the thought among some, that a spot on the
most coveted sporting board in Australia could then be up for
grabs. That if there must be an expansion it shouldn’t be just
based on the best female for the job, and naturally any club would
particularly welcome one of their “own” at the table. The
Victorian clubs also being highly political with their paranoia over
their loss of influence as the strength of the national game reduces
their own clout, are also acutely aware that an additional board member
can further throw out the delicate balance of power when the commission
votes on key issues. So given their insecurity, the possibility
of not only a female but a possible interstate appointee could throw
even more fuel on the fire for the Victorian clubs. Yet because
they maintain a crucial majority if voting as a bloc they can help
dictate the eventual appointee. But to their credit in recent
years some Victorian clubs now take this opportunity to wear a more
responsible national hat more seriously than they might have

Also I suspect the motives of Evans and Demetriou aren’t just purely
directed at the need to appoint a woman commissioner, but would surely
suit their purpose politically for the benefit of the national
competition if that nomination was a person not beholden or connected
to Victoria’s club mafia. Perhaps I am being too cynical but in
the cryptic jungle of AFL politics, even the genuine wish to empower a
female commissioner still leaves plenty of room for other agendas
hitched to the arrival of a fresh face at the league table?

What isn’t beyond dispute is that it’s shameful it has already taken
the AFL this long to get around to such reform at commission level;
although Evans and Demetriou are to be congratulated for finally taking
up the cudgels to make it happen. This lack of representation at
the highest level for a game that is proud to boast of an almost even
split of female followers which I think is at about 45%, makes AFL the
most egalitarian football code in the world. Therefore any club
official, who still clings to the tokenism red herring, shows little if
any comprehension for just what a well qualified professional woman
would bring to the AFL’s boardroom. If the league is to continue
to thrive it not only has to show it pays more than lip service to
female fans, but make it possible to bring a female sensibility to its
decision-making that speaks to all it’s stakeholders and not just the

Since Collingwood president Eddie McGuire became Collingwood president
it took him a little while to turn Victoria Park on its ear as he
battled cries of tokenism with the club’s first ever female director,
but he overcame all objections. And now while he’s behind this
latest move, like others at Victorian club level he’s not wild about
the idea of the commission being expanded in order to achieve it.

But surely even the more recalcitrant clubs must appreciate having a
woman sitting at the big table has never been more vital.
Imprinted on the forehead of all club bosses when they cast their vote
for expansion, should be something along the lines of: “If you
vote and don’t think female – you’re a bloody idiot”. Only then
can we start to assume the AFL board will win its hard ball get for a
woman of substance!
The AFL commission comprises the following:

  • Ron Evans (Chairman)
  • Andrew Demetriou (CEO)
  • Colin Carter
  • Bill Kelty
  • Chris Langford
  • Mike Fitzpatrick
  • Graeme John
  • Bob Hammond

For more on the commission you can visit the AFL official web site.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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