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Forced AFL resignations were a holier-than-thou and sexist over-reaction

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Tuesday, 18 July 2017


AFL Chief Gillon McLachlan, according to press reports, forced the resignations of two senior ­executives after they admitted having "inappropriate relationships with younger female employees working in the industry".  The men, Football Operations Manager Simon Lethlean (a 41 year-old married father of four, reportedly earning $900,000 a year, and architect of the successful AFL women’s league), and General Manager - Commercial, Richard Simkiss (also married with children, in his mid 30s, and presumably also on a high salary), were said to have undermined the football code’s attempt to "set the ­standard for community and ethical leadership".  Mr McLachlan said he was unaware of "any formal complaints" by the women affected by the scandal. 

All this left me wondering what exactly the two sacked executives had done to lose their jobs.  Were the women concerned really young?  Would the relationships have been OK if the women were older or worked outside the AFL?  Were the women "ill-treated" in some way?  Were the men concerned abusing positions of power to gain sexual favours from inarticulate junior women?  Was the AFL taking a position against philandering in the broader workplace?

Alternatively, are we just seeing a return to some form of old-fashioned (Victorian?) morality that severely censures sexual indiscretions, in contrast to the modernist view that, while we may not necessarily approve, what consenting adults get up to is largely their own business?

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While nobody has articulated in detail which aspects of Lethlean's and Simkiss' affairs were "sackable" offences, several aspects of their behaviour seem to have been frowned upon.  The biggest issue seems to be the AFL's desire to be "setting the standard" (for community and ethical leadership), and its desire to get away from its historic "blokey culture". 

Most people (and in particular sponsors) would support the various football codes in their efforts to stamp out "gross" behaviour and avoid scandals.  Such measures include censuring behaviours like player intoxication, assaults, drug-taking, and spouse/girlfriend abuse.  Both men apologised for their actions, indicating that they "did not live up to the values of the AFL".

McLachlan said the two men had been conducting "inappropriate" relationships "with younger women in the industry"..."I expect that executives are role models and set a standard of behaviour for the rest of the organisation",  McLachlan said.  "They are judged, as they should be, to a higher standard". 

But should they be judged to a much higher standard than everyone else?  Such double standards are debatable and, arguably, are unfair and unrealistic.

Setting the highest community standards and stamping-out blokey culture?  That comes across as a bit rich in that football (especially AFL and the two rugby codes) is about as "blokey" an activity as you can get.  Football players also widely live up to the cliché of being "over-paid and over-sexed", and the AFL has recently given its professional players a 20 per cent pay rise.

It is worth canvassing the issue of the "younger women".  The men concerned reportedly are aged 41 and "mid-thirties" respectively.  The "other women" (identified in the press) each  attended two different universities, completing their studies around 2012.  One is a lawyer for the AFL, and the other was a Sydney-based administrator (of the NSW/ACT division Auskick, junior AFL).  The women therefore both seemingly are in their mid to late 20s.  My summation is that the age differences between the sacked executives and these women were barely remarkable, and the women themselves come across as articulate educated middle executives.  One of the women had already left the AFL (in September 2016), while the other is said to be on leave.

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So why were the relationships inappropriate? 

They relationships were "work romances" in the sense that those concerned were employed by the same broad organisation.  It is not clear that the parties actually worked closely together.  While office romances have drawbacks, especially if they do not work out, the reality is that a lot of marriages, including second marriages, result from parties getting to know each other through work.

The men, being married, would be regarded as "cheating" on their wives, who would likely be distressed and embarrassed by the affair.  The AFL, on the other hand, would hardly be assessed as having the interests of the wives in mind, since the publicity generated by the public resignations and the loss of their husbands' high paying jobs would have created considerable additional anguish.  Married men having affairs unfortunately is far from unusual (and outsiders never really know what goes on within a marriage).  If having an extra-marital affair is considered a "sackable" offence, then very large numbers of executives, politicians, public servants and others would lose their jobs.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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