Former Collingwood player Len Thompson says
it’s time the AFL addressed the “physical and emotional plight of ex-players”.
According to Thompson, a rally of ex-players last week urged the AFL “to address the issue
by funding the establishment of a $10 million foundation to finance the cost of
well-deserved and greatly needed support and services for retired players.”

Another article in this morning’s Age has former Carlton and Collingwood
player Ron O’Dwyer, now president of the X-Men, an organisation set up to
represent the 7000 strong group of ex-AFL players, accusing the AFL of “contempt” for
“ignoring the medical needs of thousands of former players.”

The noises coming from past players have intensified
in recent months. Sooner or later the AFL hierarchy has to respond, even if that means stating it won’t
open its coffers. It may be unpopular with the public and show the League to be
selective about which parts of its history it chooses to honour, but at least
everyone will understand its position.

While the AFL’s objection is
largely a financial one, the question underlying this debate remains, who is
responsible for the football-related health problems of ex-players? Players,
clubs, or the League?

Collingwood last year paid for Thompson to
have spinal surgery to alleviate “20 years of crippling back pain.” Collingwood
has also recently helped Des Tuddenham with his medical bills, suggesting
someone at the club feels a moral responsibility to former players. So how does
that responsibility change when we are talking about 7000 ex-AFL players?

Simple: the cost. Clubs will argue they
can’t afford to assist all of their former players. The AFL has indicated that
the AFL Players’ Association should foot the bills. The AFLPA has come some
way to doing that, establishing a $2 million fund (taken from the wages of
current players) to meet the medical expenses of ex-players, but as AFLPA chief
Brendan Gale rightly points out, that would disappear in moments if it was the
only source of financial assistance for ex-players.

And that leaves all eyes looking at the AFL, who are now on a
collision course with those who helped make the game as profitable as it is