Essendon CAS Verdict: The Punishment Befits The Crime

THE WORLD Anti-Doping Authority decision to ban 34 past and present players over a “supplements” scandal at the Essendon Football Club is welcome, finally dispensing justice befitting the methodical use of illegal peptides to cheat in Australia’s premier sport. The players aren’t victims: excusing them would embolden every maggot worldwide, charged with athletes, who may be tempted to seek competitive gain by illicit and duplicitous means.

First things first: if I don’t make this obligatory disclaimer, one reader or another who knows me personally will in comments; not only am I a lifelong, devout supporter and long-time member of the Carlton Football Club — the sworn arch-enemy of the Essendon Football Club — but I have for decades harboured a deep and residual hatred for Essendon that (I admit) borders on the pathological.

On one level, yesterday was a very happy day. But only so far as Essendon’s likely win-loss ratio this year is concerned.

The truth is that I have avoided commenting on the train wreck Essendon’s ill-fated and disastrous experimentation with “supplements” has turned into for a number of reasons; obviously, events and investigations had to run their course, and over the past three and a half years it seemed imprudent to make comment in this column over the biggest scandal in Australian sport before it drew to completion.

But with no appeal permitted against the Court of Arbitration for Sport decision yesterday to suspend 34 past and present Bombers players over the clandestine and as it transpires illicit “supplements” program that operated at Essendon in early 2012, the kindest thing that can be said is that gross stupidity and incompetence have been met with the only reward they warranted.

And before we get too far in, readers may like to catch up on a selection of the news reports and comment from yesterday’s events here, here and here.

Yet with the inevitable accusations of blame and debate over who is “innocent,” who the “victims” are, and what the consequences of yesterday’s decision will be in the short and long-term, one thing is clear: the villain in this piece, at the root of everything leading up to yesterday’s announcement, is the club itself; the entity I spent years at one point referring to only as an “Evil Empire” — not disgraced “sports scientist” Stephen Dank, or former player and coach James Hird, or any of a raft of other Essendon people — is where the finger must be pointed by friends and enemies of Essendon alike, for whichever way you cut it, ultimately the club has nobody to blame for the debacle but itself.

This proud club, equalled in historic success only by my own over the past 140-odd years, is on its knees, and as a Carlton person who stuck ferociously loyal during the dark days of the salary rorts scandal in 2002 and for years afterwards, I know what it feels like: and what it will feel like, for the shame and ridicule and stigma that will follow Essendon after yesterday will persist for years, just as it did at Carlton.

If, of course, Essendon even survives it.

But yesterday’s decision by CAS was, in my view, inevitable from the moment the AFL’s Mickey Mouse, keystone, hillbilly, kangaroo court spat in ASADA’s face last year by emphatically clearing the Essendon “supplements” program, the club, its staff and its players over suspected breaches of the WADA anti-doping code at the AFL tribunal; lawyers I’ve intermittently spoken with and other football people in the know all concurred that (to put it most kindly) the tribunal erred by testing the allegations of banned substance use against a test of “reasonable doubt” when the required standard to uphold the charges was the less onerous test of “comfortable satisfaction.”

I don’t propose to trawl through the details of the case — we don’t have the time for it and in any case, I think most people have a basic comprehension of the story as it heads toward its fourth birthday — but the “supplements” program that Dank ran was based in little documentation and even less record keeping; it featured ambiguous and conflicting accounts of who was injected with what, and when; it saw players signing “informed” consent forms to receive injections when it is now clear there was no information of any meaningful use given and no substantial questions raised by the players; and a modus operandi adopted by almost all of the key players at the Essendon Football Club once the crisis became public that if you see it, sue it.

That Essendon is now onto its third club chairman in as many years since the scandal first broke on the so-called blackest day in Australian sport downplays, if anything, the utter culpability the club as an institution and an entity — to say nothing of its standing as an employer — bears in allowing and sanctioning the activities that led to yesterday’s outcome to have ever taken place.

There is a place for legitimate supplements programs in all sports, and Australian football is no different. But from the outset it was apparent, from the testimony collected by ASADA investigators, that many prominent figures at Essendon were aware that what Dank was implementing at least pushed the envelope. Yet far from sounding the alarm, or motivating careful oversight and unimpeachable documentation, the anarchic and chaotic nature of the program caused nary a ripple among the best of Essendon’s inner coterie, which is bizarre, to say the least.

I say “nary a ripple” for the only person to make any kind of effort to challenge the “supplements” program or to try to shut it down — albeit without success — was long-time club doctor Bruce Reid, who as far as I can see is the only individual in the mire engulfing the Bombers who is even entitled to still call himself a loyal servant of his club. Reid’s, of course, was a lone voice of opposition, silenced at least part of the time by the managers of the “supplements” program simply cutting him out of the loop.

But Reid tried, which is more than anyone can say of the likes of James Hird, or Mark Thompson, or the rest of the “loyal” Essendon coterie who let it go on right under their noses.

Frankly, the same could be said of the AFL itself: and if a procession of resignations from the AFL Commission does not follow yesterday’s decision, it will be an indication that little has really been learned.

Already, the AFL Players’ Association (and, I’m told, some agitators at Essendon and within the Commission) are arguing the AFL should abandon the WADA doping code: to do so would be unthinkable, and would merely telegraph to the rest of the world, quite literally, that the comfort and cosy isolation of Australia’s indigenous football code is more important than the fact junking the world standard in doping laws would make it look like a dirty sport contested by tainted athletes — or, at the minimum, prepared to treat transgressions with kid gloves when they occur.

That particular rod is one the AFL made for its own back years ago, with its ridiculous “three strikes” policy on recreational drug use, an unacceptably liberal policy in professional sport compounded by jaw-dropping provisions for players who self-reported to be spared its harshest consequences, or in some cases any consequences at all.

It is true the evidence used against Essendon was circumstantial; it couldn’t be otherwise, given most records relating to the “supplements” program were either destroyed or never kept in the first place.

What were the players actually injected with? Who knows, for certain. Nobody has produced evidence to corroborate the stout Essendon insistence that the peptides used were permitted.

But the stony silence of Dank, his suppliers, and the players provided telltale indications all was not right; the fact the frequency of some of the injections as testified to almost perfectly matched the regimen for use of the banned peptide Thymosin Beta-4 helped to paint a damning picture of flagrant disregard for international doping regulations made possible by the wilful evasion of solid testimony and through the lack of rigorous documentation — detail that any program of the massive scope of Essendon’s could not reasonably have expected not to be kept.

If Essendon’s players were only ever administered legal peptides, it is the club’s own fault — and of course, the fault of its servants — that it never kept concrete records to substantiate it.

The price the club has paid and will continue to pay, therefore, is a reasonable one, and although some people bracket the Essendon “supplements” scandal with the Carlton salary cap furore of almost 15 years ago, I say the Essendon breaches are far, far more serious.

Carlton broke the rules, yes: but collectively paying three or four players a couple of hundred thousand dollars under the table, when they would in likelihood have stayed at the club anyway — not that I’m in any way sanctioning it — is one thing.

But a scandal over systemic, methodical drug cheating — which is what this is, either by use of banned substances or the moronic and cretinously derelict failure to keep track of whatever legal substances are claimed to have instead been administered — is quite another.

There is something about drug cheating that transcends just about ever other possible transgression in the sporting world; tainted, dirty athletes competing in events and contests that are in consequence tainted and dirty themselves. What has happened at Essendon is unforgivable. If those associated with the club wish to protest their innocence, they must also proclaim their utter stupidity and incompetence.

Personally, my view is that the banned substances were indeed administered to the Essendon players, although everyone will have an opinion, and differences over those will shape debate for years. The fact is that it has happened, and now concluded.

When the WADA appeal process began, it was understood by all parties that there was no right of appeal once CAS delivered its verdict: this time, it would be final.

It is an appalling show of poor faith, therefore, that having campaigned to have the CAS hearing take place in Sydney — rather than in Switzerland, where WADA is based — that some in the Essendon community now seek to appeal in the NSW Supreme Court on the basis that as the hearing occurred in Sydney, the NSW Courts must have jurisdiction to overturn the result.

It is to be hoped endeavours of that nature are quickly dispensed with, for after nearly four years, there is a limit to how much the football public, the players and the Essendon Football Club itself can tolerate before this fiasco begins to cause serious and irreparable damage to the code and to the AFL itself.

For from this point, the ramifications will reverberate for a long time to come irrespective of whether any further challenges ensue.

Whilst they mightn’t appeal in the NSW Courts, players could well sue the Essendon Football Club and the AFL; already reeling from draft and monetary penalties two years ago for poor governance in the “supplements” matter, the cost to Essendon could conceivably top a hundred million dollars.

There might not be an Essendon — at least in its present form — in five years’ time, if the big hits heading its way damage it badly enough; I think the competition needs Essendon, although I simply want the opportunity to see footballers in blue belt the bejesus out of footballers in red and black on the scoreboard every time the two meet. Killing the club off isn’t an agenda item of mine. But with 12 first-choice players wiped out this year as a result of the WADA verdict, I’m looking forward to Essendon having a very, very bad season indeed.

Should Jobe Watson be allowed to keep the Brownlow Medal he won in 2012, at the height of the “supplements” program? No. The award is tainted, and to now allow Watson to retain it would permanently tarnish the fine tradition of awarding a medal to the fairest and most brilliant player as judged by the game umpires every season. Retrospectively, Watson’s involvement in the program has ruled him ineligible through suspension. The joint runners-up — Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell and Richmond’s Trent Cotchin — should be jointly declared Brownlow Medallists for 2012, and all mention of Watson’s award erased from official records.

There are many aspects of this issue I’m not covering today — partly owing to constraints of time and the need for some modicum of concision, but also because I’m sure there will be opportunities to revisit this matter over a period of years — but with sport so often intersecting with politics, whether through funding, legislation, or the old-fashioned fact that “business” is so often done at a football match (and particularly here in Melbourne) the Essendon debacle is not inconsistent with a discussion forum on events in politics.

But we won’t be making a habit of it.

Yet there is one thing I wish to be abundantly clear on in closing this morning, and it’s that the players — all 34 of them, whether still at Essendon, at other clubs, playing or coaching in suburban and provincial leagues, or retired from football altogether — are not the innocent victims in all of this, as an avalanche of PR spin and media influence has sought to persuade people over the past 24 hours.

There is adequate evidence that the players failed to question what they were given; refused to disclose what they knew; kept a tight code of secrecy insisted upon by the club to their own detriment; and in some cases were proven to have returned elevated levels of the banned Thymosin peptide at the heart of the ASADA/WADA case. All 34 players had managers, with whom presumably few or none bothered to discuss the proposed injection regime.

There is no evidence of any player having sought legal advice or other professional direction on the program from outside the Essendon Football Club at the time.

An unkind (and often patently false) cliché is that footballers are stupid clods with no capacity to do much more than play football, drink beer, and screw girls. Even if you subscribe to that cynical and noxious view, and even if the 34 footballers in question are as thick as two short planks, they have plenty of people around them who aren’t: but they never bothered to make use of them to clarify their positions at all.

There is adequate reason, therefore, to conclude the players contributed to the scope of the penalty they have been handed: an assertion well borne out by the fact that on no fewer than at least three previous occasions over the past two years, they were unanimous in rejecting “deals” offered by the AFL and/or ASADA that would have seen them miss few (if any) competitive matches of football, rather than the entire season they will now be prohibited from contesting in the wake of yesterday’s decision.

But there is a deeper — and irrefutable — reason the Essendon players must be heavily punished, and it is this.

Were they to be excused for whatever role they played (or unwittingly served, if that indeed were so) in the Essendon “supplements” scandal, the direct consequence would be to green-light and embolden every dodgy maggot across the world, charged with the training and management of professional athletes and sportsmen, to seek to acquire competitive advantage via whatever illicit and dubious method imaginable.

The emphasis would switch from compliance with strict but perfectly reasonable drug and doping codes to simply getting the juice into players and athletes in any way possible: by lacing their food and drink with it, or by supplying “topical” creams laced with it, or even by the baldly audacious path of a program of injections with a complete lack of documentation.

After all, so long as the players don’t know what they’ve taken, who cares if it helps them win or lose? They’re not to blame, are they?

Of course they are, and if Essendon’s players have ingested anything prohibited at all, it closes the arc to placing the ultimate blame on the Evil Empire they are contracted to play for.

The punishment befits the crime. And if no crime was in fact committed at Essendon, and yesterday’s decision was made in error of fact, the club and the players have had years to prove it.

That opportunity has now expired. Time will tell whether the aftershocks consume the club along with it.

 

 

Racist Garbage: Frankly, Adam Goodes Can Go To Hell

NAUSEATING finger-shaking over football crowds booing Sydney Swans player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes hit a disgusting new low this week, with media railing against “racist” slurs on Goodes, Twitterati stating #IStandWithAdam, and the AFL making a typically vapid stand on racism in his name. Goodes chose to humiliate a young girl, making her a national target of vilification. He can go to hell if he resents the fallout.

One of the biggest problems with the compassion babblers and finger shakers and their cohorts in the politically correct bleeding heart bullshit industry is that they lie in wait, like an ambush party, just itching for an “issue” to appear so they can punch their “values” down the throats of the rest of the population: and when such an “issue” inevitably materialises they run off half-cocked, missing the point, and arguably doing far more damage than the “issue” they claim to be standing on does in the first place.

It’s become a modern retort against these people that one of the things they do is to start a hashtag — a tool for grouping like-minded comment and output on social media site Twitter — and the most recent misguided, factually incorrect, politically motivated example of it was the cretinous #IStandForMercy campaign, which purported to advocate for executed Bali Nine filth Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, but which instead amounted to no more than a fictitious but savage personal and political assault on Prime Minister Tony Abbott and, by extension, his government.

Now, they’ve latched onto the fact that football crowds over the past year or so have shown an increasing tendency to boo Sydney Swans player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes — and as usual, the noisy, visible campaign they have engineered very conveniently ignores the reason for it, which has nothing to do with racism at all: just the fact that, to put it bluntly, Goodes is a hypocrite and a dickhead who, stereotypically, can dish it out but he can’t take it.

I will talk about Goodes in a moment. But first — seeing politics and football have intersected on this issue — I want to talk about my own club, Carlton.

We have a long and proud tradition of having Aboriginal players at Carlton, beginning with one of the first to ever play the game at the senior VFL/AFL level: Syd Jackson, who played 136 games in the 1970s, and who is rightly revered at Carlton as a dual premiership hero and much-loved icon of our club.

More recently, four of our best players — Andrew Walker, Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Chris Yarran — have come to Carlton from Aboriginal backgrounds.

Betts has gone to Adelaide, and gets booed when we play the Crows: not because he is black, and not simply because he crossed the Rubicon to play at a rival club, but because his departure stemmed from Betts putting a ridiculous price tag on his own head as the cost for staying at Carlton, which was (in the view of supporters and, it seems the club hierarchy) unjustified based on his inconsistent but patchily awe-inspiring output as a small forward and goalsneak.

Most players who go to other clubs, in AFL fan culture, get booed. Just because they do. There’s nothing cerebral to it and certainly nothing racist about it.

Garlett has gone to Melbourne with the best wishes of Carlton fans: not because we are pleased to see the back of a black player, but because like Betts, the gap between “Jeffy” at his best and his worst was cavernous: a fresh start for the player at another club was probably in the best interests of both Garlett and Carlton — and this is a story that plays out at every club at one point or another.

Walker frustrates because, like Garlett, he is inconsistent: but unlike Garlett, he has been far more consistent over 13 seasons than Garlett was over six; and Yarran is widely touted as “trade bait” at the end of this season: not to get rid of a black player, but because there is a sense that the supremely talented, exquisitely skilled, lightning-fast Yarran simply doesn’t fit the club as it begins a total rebuild of its playing list, and that he might fare better — and gain more personally — at a club in premiership contention, which Carlton most certainly is not.

The point is that our members and supporters (who, admittedly, boo Goodes, like everyone else) are not racist and in fact, have embraced Aboriginal players like so many other clubs have done; for whatever reason, these players seem to boast grace and power and speed and skill in levels that are disproportionate with their caucasian counterparts; and far from being a difference that elicits prejudice, the Aboriginal players are revered.

Stories like those of our Aboriginal players at Carlton and the vaulting esteem in which they are held can be found at virtually every AFL club these days, and any booing that goes on (which, to be clear, is something that non-indigenous players get singled out for, too) is never racially motivated: Aboriginal players get the same treatment from football crowds as everyone else does — which is as it should be — and if they get booed at all, they have done something specific to warrant it.

Were it racially motivated, then every Aboriginal player would be booed every time they set foot on a football field which, quite clearly, they are not.

Many of them are names that bring people to football games just to see them play. And until very recently, one of those names was Adam Goodes.

Miranda Devine, writing in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today, sets out the case against Goodes with a clarity that is sorely lacking among some of her contemporaries, including at her own newspaper: and she also sets out the mythical “redneck man” supposedly responsible for a crusade against Goodes, which is said to be racist, bigoted, and based on nothing more than the colour of his skin. Nothing could be further from the truth. I urge everyone to read Miranda’s article today.

Back in 2013, Goodes was instrumental in singling out and publicly shaming a 13-year-old girl who had called him “an ape” at a Sydney vs Collingwood match she attended with her grandmother, and whilst there may have been racial overtones to the sledge, the very culture of football blurs the line in positively determining that the comment was in fact racist: and in any case, Goodes’ behaviour over the incident was so far over the top, excessive, and out of all realistic proportion as to defy belief that even a passionate advocate against racism and Aboriginal disadvantage could lower himself to indulge in it.

Australian football — a game where “gorillas” are prized on team lists because of their size, power and capacity to physically intimidate opponents — itself blurs the line over whether “an ape” might be a racist characterisation, or at least in part another variety of a “gorilla;” one multiple premiership coach was revered for playing “mongrels” on every line, and this reference to dogs was never leapt upon by the sanctimony brigade in outrage in the way a young girl’s taunt that Goodes was “an ape” was.

But let’s just set aside the cultural references within the game itself that might have led an impressionable kid to think calling Goodes “an ape” was acceptable, and look at his response.

As Miranda notes, Goodes could see this kid was very young — he guessed 14, when in fact she was even younger than that.

Yet that didn’t stop him from demanding the AFL’s rent-a-cops single her out, march her from the grandstand, after which she was held and presumably interrogated for more than two hours, until beyond midnight, whilst separated from her grandmother.

The girl must have been absolutely terrified. Goodes is not a stupid fellow. He did not come down in the proverbial last shower. He knows how the AFL works. He must have had at least some inkling of how AFL officials would respond once he sooled them onto her.

In this era of live telecasting of AFL matches against the gate — and especially a high-profile clash between power clubs like Sydney and Collingwood — the entire demeaning episode, including the girl being frogmarched out of the stadium by the AFL’s goons, was beamed live around the country to a TV audience numbering in the millions.

Yet not content with this success, and apparently driven by a total disregard for the emotional welfare of a 13-year-old child who had already been nationally shamed, Goodes fronted the media the following day to declare that “racism has a face, and it is a 13-year-old girl.”

To do this — in spite of the humiliation and vilification that had been heaped upon her the night before, and with the apparent forethought suggested by having taken the time to consider what he would tell the press when they next asked him about it — speaks to Goodes, despite whatever else he might be, being a prick: nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t condone racism for a moment, and certainly not in professional sport. But this episode, by Goodes’ own actions, represents something else entirely.

The girl subsequently apologised to Goodes and wrote him a letter, but the damage was done: and whilst Goodes did and does enjoy the shelter of not just the AFL community but of the entire grandstanding, moralising, finger-waving lobby of Chardonnay drunks and social campaigners who are just looking to destroy people in the name of the causes they are obsessed with — to the total exclusion in most cases of any sense of decency, balance, or common sense — this young kid, who herself comes from a severely compromised background as the disadvantaged child of a single mother on a disability pension, had nobody to defend her and no voice of mass reach to counter the malicious onslaught Goodes’ apparently carefully considered words unleashed.

I am sick of hearing about Adam Goodes, and so are an awful lot of ordinary, decent, unbigoted people.

I personally don’t boo Goodes when I see him at the football, although I am also intellectually honest enough — unlike the PC chatterati set driving the “Adam has been racially vilified” bandwagon — to know there is nothing racist behind it. Not now. He was complicit in trying to destroy a little girl’s world in retaliation for one poorly chosen remark at a football game. He should, in fact, be ashamed of himself.

The fact he claimed late in the week to be unable to play football at the weekend because the controversy around being booed by crowds had all become too much for him to cope with is a claim that, regrettably, cuts no ice where I’m concerned.

Racially provoked or not, Goodes’ response unleashed consequences on the girl that were out of all proportion, unjustified and unjustifiable, and which could cause permanent psychological damage to someone who arguably wasn’t even old enough to fully comprehend what she had done wrong, let alone be a suitable target for making an example of her on a national stage.

But Goodes can’t handle the fact that the episode has directly led to football crowds viewing him very, very poorly.

He’s had AFL matches at the weekend all making faux stands against racism — ostensibly in his name — because people dare to hold him to account, the only way they can, for the frightful and malevolent approach he took to a 13 year old child, for goodness’ sake.

He’s had journalists and opinion makers all over the country coming out of the woodwork, suggesting anyone who dares to boo Goodes — or even to criticise him at all — is, unambiguously, a racist and a bigot, wildly generalised and thoroughly misguided statements that should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

He’s had the army of do-gooders on Twitter who ache for causes to shame and pillory and crucify people over tweeting that #IStandWithAdam which, presumably, means they fully sanction what he did to that poor girl.

The vengeful bent of reprisal that drove Goodes that night does not speak to a fair, forgiving or even reasonable mindset, whatever the provocation.

And the low regard in which he has subsequently been held by a solid portion of both the football public and the wider community is something for which he only has himself to blame.

Nobody forced Goodes — who, again, would have had a very clear idea of the likely fallout — to shame and humiliate that kid, and make her life a living misery in front of a national audience and abetted by the finger-shakers whose instincts are to destroy, rather than to heal or to reconcile.

That he now can’t handle the response — or if he doesn’t like the fact that the character his actions ultimately shredded was his own, not that of the girl in question — is of little interest, and no cause for sympathy, let alone the imbecilic outpouring that has taken place in recent days.

If you’re just a dickhead, you’re just a dickhead: and as far as I’m concerned, that particular shoe fits Adam Goodes. It has nothing to do with the fact he’s black.

If Goodes doesn’t like the fact those who once admired him now harbour nothing but contempt, he will just have to get over it; and the fact decent people without a racist bone in their bodies refuse to forgive the retaliatory experience he inflicted on a child does not constitute racism in any way — rather, the total horror that anyone would find it appropriate to put the poor girl through what Goodes, knowingly, saw fit to put her through at all.

And to date, no apology for that has been forthcoming.

In short, Adam Goodes can go to hell. And if he wants to complain any more about his lot where these issues are concerned, the hitherto slavering press pack ought to tell him to tell his story walking.

There are plenty of other Aboriginal identities who make excellent role models for their communities, and good Australian people from other backgrounds embrace them openly, as they once did Goodes.

If Goodes is no longer regarded by many people as one of them, there is nothing “racist” about it.

 

An AFL Grand Final Public Holiday? It’s Just A Dumb Ruse

THAT “ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER” — an event hard-wired into the DNA of sports mad Melbourne — is today, and as he has for the past three years puerile brat and state Labor leader Daniel “Dan” Andrews is politicising it, seeking to exploit the AFL Grand Final in a cynical grab for the votes of football tragics. This cack-brained plan is just dumb, and is so bad as to beggar belief. The idiocy of this extends far beyond the borders of the state of Victoria.

I trust readers will forgive me today, but in publishing this column over the past few years I have learnt that this is one day of the year that few people are all that interested in hard politics — whether there is much happening or not — and so I thought it an opportune time to talk about something local in Victoria ahead of the November state election that intersects with one of the great annual days in Australian sport: the AFL Grand Final.

And my remarks today, whilst deadly serious insofar as actual electoral politics is concerned, will be rather more light-hearted than is usually the case.

Each year for the past three years, the dopey fool who leads state Labor in Victoria, Daniel Andrews — whose latest “man of the people” initiative is to insist that people should now call him “Dan” — has engaged in an annual ritual of cynical populism in promising that if elected to government, the ALP will legislate a statewide public holiday for the Grand Final.

To fall the day before the game, on the Friday, to coincide with the Grand Final Parade through central Melbourne. Or, bizarrely, to fall the Monday after.

Andrews argues that the Grand Final attracts 30,000 interstate visitors to Melbourne each year, adding $40 million to the state’s economy: assertions that find common ground with the Coalition.

But the Liberals — backed by the state Treasury — have also shown that adding a public holiday would cost the state $1.6 billion in lost productivity, with an additional $200 million impost on retail, hospitality and tourism businesses forced to pay penalty rates on a day that frankly, cannot be justified being made into a public holiday at all (and I’m assuming we’re really talking about the Friday before the game; the idea of a public holiday two days after the event is even more ridiculous than the idea of having one for it at all).

In fact, let’s start with the date itself; gazetting a Saturday, other than Easter or Christmas, a public holiday makes no sense, even if Andrews thinks making this one will gift him the common touch by deifying a day many Melburnians believe is “sacred,” which is why we’re talking about the Friday prior or the Monday after.

There’s an additional problem with all three days — the Friday, the Saturday and the Monday — in that some or all of them usually fall within the school holiday period in Victoria, when many families are already off work, but never mind that. Dopey Dan never lets inconvenient practicalities get in the way of cynical politics.

There would seem little point having a public holiday two days after the Grand Final, so that makes the Grand Final Parade the only “hook” of any substance on which to hang this silly idea. A two-hour procession through central Melbourne, which disrupts inner-city traffic for several hours and wreaks enough havoc for city workers as it is, is hardly a weighty enough event to justify a holiday for it.

Dopey Dan has committed Labor to making a Grand Final public holiday a statewide event, rather than one confined to Melbourne; it’s a noble sentiment that Labor’s shadow Sports minister John Eren should suggest that “people in regional areas could have BBQs, they could have luncheons, pubs and clubs would be full” but I’m yet to find any evidence that the Parade is “event” enough for people in regional Victoria (or even in Melbourne) to have activities on a similar size and scale the very day before they do it for the Grand Final itself.

Then again, Labor is terrified that the remnants of its regional seat gains from the 2002 election will be lost in nine weeks’ time and its prospects of returning to government with them, which perhaps explains why voters in the state’s outer extremities are being promised a public holiday for something going on in Melbourne.

Labor has also tried to justify its pledge with the tacky contention that there is a “six month drought” of long weekends in Victoria between the Queen’s Birthday in June and Christmas; I’ll come back to that in a bit, but this “problem” could easily be solved by moving the Labour Day holiday to October, when it is observed in most other Australian states.

Not that you’d expect a Labor government, with its May Day rhetoric and slavering to militant unions — especially in Victoria — to ever sanction that.

But where this dumb idea from Dopey Dan can really do more damage than any cynical political benefit to Labor could ever outweigh is in the rest of the country, where the AFL seeks to grow the game, and in territory that in some cases is barely better than openly hostile.

A public holiday, limited to Victoria, for the “national game” stands to drive a lot of resentment toward the AFL — even as a state government initiative — and reinforce the perception that Australian football is completely skewed toward Melbourne which, by virtue of ten of the 18 teams being based in Victoria, it inevitably is to some extent anyway.

It might not faze those who live in the other “traditional” football states of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, although the AFL itself has managed to enrage many in Tasmania by trying to create a team in the boondocks of Western Sydney, where no AFL side would ever survive without the millions of dollars the League is pumping in to artificially sustain one, before admitting a Tasmanian side to the competition.

But the code schism that separates Queensland and NSW from the rest of the country when it comes to football can only be riven wider by creating the perception that Melbourne (and Victoria) continue to get ever more out of the AFL that others do not receive; in Sydney (the embarrassment of the oxymoronic Greater Western Sydney “Giants” aside), the Sydney Swans might be able to fill the tiny SCG at home games, but filling a 45,000 seat stadium in a city of 4.4 million should be child’s play.

As for the 80,000 seat Stadium Australia at Homebush, where the Swans play some finals and home and away matches against bigger Victorian clubs, the AFL is flat out filling it at the best of times, and would stand no prospect of ever doing so were it not for the huge fan bases of big Melbourne clubs which are prepared to head north for a weekend to watch their teams play.

And as for Queensland…when I was growing up as a Carlton supporter in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s — well before God ever invented the Brisbane Bears — any admission of barracking for the Blues (or any side in the VFL, as it then was) routinely attracted accusations of homosexuality, mental retardation and the like.

I remember showing up to work at my restaurant management job three days after Carlton won the 1995 Premiership to spend the day doing stocktakes with a boss I had viscerally detested since the day he hired me; this bloke was many things (and “Mr Personality,” if you’re reading, you know who you are) but one of them was that he was football mad.

The “other” football. Rugby League. A game that never made much sense to me, but having grown up around it I treated it as white noise.

I never had much to talk to Mr Personality about — how do you talk to someone you find cretinous and objectionable in every conceivable sense? — but despite the fact I found him a loathsome creature I often tried; that Tuesday morning after the Blues won the flag, thinking football might spark conversation where nothing else had ever succeeded, was one of those times. “Hey, did you see Carlton won the flag?” I asked. “Kicked the living shit out of them!” I beamed triumphantly.

Mr Personality didn’t even look at me. “That’s a stupid game for fuckwits,” he replied.

End of conversation.

The reason I tell these anecdotes is because I don’t think attitudes in the Sunshine State have changed much; Brisbane people are great people but they are also bandwagon jumpers, which is why — when the Brisbane Lions were winning Premierships — colossal local support appeared for the Lions from nowhere, and when they stopped winning, it disappeared.

Now, the Lions struggle for members and revenue; young players desperately don’t want to be drafted there, and many of those who are leave as soon as they can; and the club has haemorrhaged millions in red ink since its last Premiership more than a decade ago.

For all the work the AFL has done trying to build the game in these hostile “frontier” markets, and for all the money it has disproportionately poured into teams in NSW and Queensland at direct cost to the traditional legacy clubs in Melbourne, Australian football will never be the pre-eminent code in those states.

But along comes Dopey Dan from Victorian Labor, with his Victorian-only public holiday for Grand Final Eve. The psychological signal this stupid idea would send would make those difficult northern markets just that bit more difficult.

If Andrews really wants another public holiday in Victoria (and assuming a Labor government would decline to reschedule Labour Day), then a more sensible thing to do would be to make the day before Melbourne Cup Day a public holiday: that Monday really is a waste of time in Melbourne each year, as half the business world shuts down and the other half shows up to twiddle its thumbs on a day that nothing gets done in Melbourne.

It would also give him a four-day long weekend to sell, and the notion of a “Spring Break” that could be used by students to freshen up for their final exams, or for families to grab a quick trip away in what is an often hectic lead-in toward Christmas.

The “One Day In September” is a day in Australian culture and folklore that rivals the Melbourne Cup in significance, or the Boxing Day Test, or even the Australian Open tennis final — not that Australians have won that, let alone dominated it, for decades now.

Dopey Dan and his public holiday for no other reason than trying to hitch the AFL logo to the ALP’s makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and whether you follow an Australian football side or not, if you live and vote in Victoria, you should dismiss it for the joke it is.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: It wouldn’t be a special Grand Final column without some brief comment and a tip…

On one level I don’t really care who wins today; my beloved Carlton Football Club is not a participant, and that being the case I have no particular allegiance to either of the participating teams.

On another level, however, I have watched what coach Alastair Clarkson has done during his time at Hawthorn with great admiration, envy, and sometimes even awe; I think the Hawks are as worthy of being classified as one of the great football sides of the modern era as Geelong, Brisbane a decade ago, or the Carlton and Hawthorn sides of the 1980s and 1990s.

And despite living in Brisbane until I was 25, I’ve followed VFL/AFL football since I was a kid, and have no affection for interstate sides at all: unless they are playing against the hated Essendon Bombers, in which case I barrack for the interstate team on 100% of occasions.

The Sydney Swans boast a formidable playing list and some real superstars, like ex-Hawk Lance Franklin, but so they should when the AFL has shovelled millions of dollars into the club under the guise of one discretionary allowance or another that most other clubs — and none in Melbourne, except the nearly bankrupt — don’t get.

And whilst the Hawthorn list is ageing and perhaps on its last Premiership attempt in its current cycle, its glut of booming left-foot kickers and its own veritable superstars can more than hold their own against the team money, quite literally, has bought in the Harbour town.

Who do I hope will win? Hawthorn. It might be a traditionalist view, but I don’t like interstate sides winning AFL flags. Unless it’s against Essendon, of course, or Collingwood.

More seriously, who do I think will win? Hawthorn, by 28 points.

 

We’ll be back to proper politics — and our usual discussion — either later this evening or in the morning.