Demons in need of tackling

Something is rotten in the Demons’ domain. I am stating the bleeding obvious, of course, because hardly anyone with the slightest interest in sport, especially in AFL-mad Victoria, is unaware of the debacle that the Melbourne Football Club and its current season have become.

The club boasts the oldest bloodline of any Australian rules footy club, and its current disaster – crystallised in the thrashing administered on the weekend by the start-up Gold Coast Suns — is not unique. One catastrophe could be regarded as a misfortune, but two similar disasters in the space of less than two decades indicate something far worse than mere carelessness. As in politics, where one side is racing headlong toward electoral annihilation, serious questions about the moral and ethical probity of the leadership need to be asked

For a team whose thousands of supporters would prefer to view it as a shining example of sportsmanship, fairness, respect for opponents and moral incorrigibility, to allow two situations unworthy of the great sport to develop is telling. The serious questions about the moral and ethical fitness of the Demons’ leadership should be asked and the situation analysed.

Back in the 1990s, the Demons were on the verge of a financial disaster and destined for dissolution. At least that is what was bandied around at the time in the news media.  The club was saved by Joseph “Diamond Joe” Gutnik, the mining entrepreneur, who put up his own money — and quite a lot of it — to support the failing club and save it from financial oblivion.

Then, as now, the team’s dire financial situation was the result of inadequate recruiting, poor coaching and an inability to lift team cohesion to the level needed to win games. If that sounds like another team now on the ropes in Canberra, let those echoes from the political arena resound. Naturally and predictably, poor team-management practices resulted in a shrunken club membership, decreased revenue and, finally, the need for financial salvation. Enter Mr.Gutnik. His money was accepted with alacrity but, when the situation was somewhat stabilised, he was driven unceremoniously from the club he saved. Many were disgusted by the manner in which the Demons saw the back of its benefactor and saviour.

Move the clock forward and the same pattern of poor decision-making has again necessitated a designated fall guy. This time it was business manager Cameron Schwab, who stood down in early April. He was not involved in of the team’s development, its direction, its training, cohesion levels  and player selection, but he was nevertheless cast into the cold.  Apart from this move being, most likely, ineffectual it has a deeper ethical significance in that it sends a wrong signal to thousands of young fans: when passing the buck,  anything goes in the game of “it was not my fault”.

Just like before, when Mr. Gutnik’s money was spent and he was given his marching orders, Schwab was kicked out for no apparent reason for which he could be held responsible. Both men were on the business-management side of things. Let’s imagine that a cinema fires its box-office lady in a bid to boost admissions numbers, instead of showing better movies. That is what happened at the Melbourne Football Club, where something is clearly and reekingly rotten

The Duke of Wellington is dubiously reputed to have said that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Regardless of the quote’s provenance, there is undoubted truth in the idea that grit, fortitude and best efforts unalloyed by self-interest all represent the best policy. Like Gillard & Co., the Demons should try it sometime.

Dr Michael Galak, a frequent Quadrant contributor, came to Australia with his family as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978

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