Governance – Adelaide Football Club Style

At first, my feeling was one of bemusement when the Adelaide Football Club’s CEO (and another senior manager at the club) were found to have engaged in salary cap abuse, yet they were penalised by the AFC Board with no worse than ‘gardening leave’.

At first, my feeling was one of bemusement when the Adelaide Football Club’s CEO (and another senior manager at the club) were found to have engaged in salary cap abuse, yet they were penalised by the AFC Board with no worse than ‘gardening leave’.

Bemusement however turned to real concern, and then to wide-eyed and open-mouthed disbelief, with the more recent revelations about players of various Australian football codes apparently taking performance-enhancing drugs, as well as possibly being involved in match-fixing. Then of course came the business of a ‘bonding’ session between taxpayer-funded Olympic swimmers that involved the knowing consumption of a banned pharmaceutical by some swimmers, and subsequent behavior that would do justice to 14-year-old bad boys. Finally, and taking the gold medal in this sad series of events for sport (actually, if you read the Oxford English Dictionary, what we are talking about doesn’t qualify as ‘sport’ anymore, rather as ‘business’…which is what I think is the root of the matter here), was the public statement by the Adelaide Football Club’s Chairman and acting CEO that the AFL’s penalty on the club’s new Assistant Coach for transgressions at his most recent club was ‘unfair to the Crows’. Well…I just don’t get it! If I, for example, was the highly important CEO of XYZ Corporation, happened to be found guilty of an offence, and was penalised in such a way that I could no longer be the CEO of XYZ Corporation for a period, that is just how it is. Maybe the Board of XYZ Corporation should have done more due diligence on me prior to my appointment. The Board is in any case accountable for whom they appoint, and keep appointed. I have heard it said in defense of the minimalist ‘gardening leave’ penalties given to the AFC senior managers that these senior executives didn’t actually break any laws. I accept this as being true. But transgressing – very seriously, as evidenced by the AFL-imposed penalties – the well known rules, codes and ethos of the game, even if not actually formally illegal, has major risk of severe reputation damage to the club. Double-standards are never a good look – Matt Rendell didn’t break any laws either. Organisations – in all sectors, including sporting bodies – are well governed when amongst other things the right tone is set by the Board. In such organisations it is well-recognised that the law is indeed the bare minimum of standards to be observed. Formal laws and regulations only represent past agreement on standards. We should be looking to our high profile sporting bodies and sports people to be true leaders, and aspire to and achieve higher standards. Further to the issue of the ‘gardening leave’, at the time I questioned a number of colleagues, all well experienced in governance roles from both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, on their views. The overwhelming majority (in fact, all but one) said that, on the basis of the available information, the AFC’s Board was in great error in not dispensing with their CEO. Some of these colleagues went on to suggest that the logical explanation for the Board’s (in)action is that somehow some (all?) directors were somehow complicit. Noting that I naturally tend to see the best in people, I don’t believe that the Board was in any way involved. However, the Board is ultimately accountable – to the law, to the AFC’s members, to sponsors, to the greater football community and South Australian community, not to mention its players and other staff. With apparently no one taking ultimately accountability for the actions under discussion here, the reputation of the club is under great question. Mark Coleman, Adjunct Professor in the Adelaide MBA at the University of Adelaide adelaide.edu.au/mba

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