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Off The Rails - How The AFL Lost It's Way

How a league goes off the rails

The Victorian gambling regulator has re-opened its investigation into the Melbourne tanking dramas of 2009, according to the Herald Sun. The move comes about after recent media coverage over the AFL’s handling of the tanking saga. This includes the Herald Sun’s publication of AFL investigation transcripts, followed up by The Mongrel Punt’s two-part series #TheTaleoftheTank.

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) recently told the Herald Sun that they are still analysing eighty pages of leaked documents pertaining to the AFL’s tanking investigation in 2012 and 2013.

But now it’s 2019, and Melbourne’s ill-fated tanking conspiracy is ten years old. An entire decade of opportunities for significant action has passed. Yet the Victorian gambling regulator is still running their eye over documents that have now been publicly available for over a month. Documents that the agency had the power to make the AFL hand over to them way back in 2013.

But clearly did not.

Or if they did, they are still reading them six years later. I’m not sure what is worse.

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But just to rub further salt into the wounds, a spokesman from the VCGLR told the Herald Sun, “these matters are currently being considered by the commission … it is our expectation that this is done in a timely manner.”

Timely manner! I know government agencies are not exactly renowned for their speed but seriously? I’d love to see the look on their faces when someone in the meeting room looks down at their iPhone 3GS and realises its 2019 now!

Anyway, for those unfamiliar, the VCGLR is actually quite a powerful government agency. It has significant authority over the AFL, that might come in handy, in say, a tanking investigation for instance. Most pressingly, under the Gambling Regulation Act (2003), the VCGLR can “at any time, vary, or revoke the approval given to a sports controlling body for any reasonable cause.”

It had this ability in 2011, when sacked Melbourne coach Dean Bailey for all intents and purposes admitted to tanking.

“I had no hesitation at all in the first two years of ensuring this club was well placed for draft picks. I was asked to do the best thing by the Melbourne Football Club and I did it.”

However, shortly after the Bailey confession, the agency then known as simply the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation decided to instead back the AFL after seeking multiple assurances from the league.

“The VCGLR is satisfied that the AFL is taking necessary action to protect the integrity of the events for which it is the sport’s controlling body and that sufficient measures are in place to safeguard it.”

Ok, how about in 2012, when former Melbourne player Brock McLean said that even “Blind Freddy” could see that Melbourne were tanking in 2009, forcing a second AFL probe?

Well, it was reported in 2012 by The Australian that the then VCGLR would “keep [a] close eye on [the] AFL probe into [the] latest tanking allegations.” But the agency still has not finished analysing the investigation’s interview transcripts it could have made the AFL hand over to it at the time.

So, when the AFL released it’s absurd not guilty findings that are in direct juxtaposition with the evidence, it was tumbleweeds from the gambling regulator. That was the time for action, if not before, certainly not now.

At this point I’d like to remind you that the Victorian gambling regulator is charged with “maintaining and improving public confidence in the integrity of sports with regard to their betting environment.”

As a member of the public, I can only speak for myself to say that I lost confidence in the integrity of the AFL over the matter. I suspect I would not have been alone.

The inability for the gambling regulator to hold the AFL to account over its farcical handling of the tanking investigation is damaging. It has well and truly let the fans down. And it has helped mould an AFL that can seemingly act however it pleases. That is how a league goes off the rails, when it is free to do whatever it wants without being held accountable.

So, as the VCGLR finishes analysing documents that we all read a month ago, the fans are left waiting for a government agency or sports authority that can properly tame the all-conquering AFL.

Preferably, in a timely manner too.

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