The AFLNT recently handed down a verdict on what has been labelled by pundits as the “March Farce”. A time that will be remembered for many years to come in the circles of Northern Territory Football League supporters. A time when during the NTFL Final Series of the 2016/17 season, a Premier League 2nd Semi Final was called off , and rescheduled three days later, on a Tuesday evening.
The reasons for abandoning the game in the first instance came after a declaration by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) to move the city of Darwin off a “tropical cyclone watch” and onto a “tropical cyclone warning“.
When the warning was called there are a few parts to consider in this situation:
- At the time of the calling, the system was still a tropical low and hadn’t been officially declared “Cyclone Blanche” which by all accounts occurred at 11:30am on Sunday 5th March.
- The conditions at the ground were already uncomfortable for both players and spectators who were braving the torrential downpours during other matches being played at that time.
- Of which the weather conditions at the time, provided wind gusts of approximately 60-80kph.
- And the call from the BOM, to move from ‘watch’ to ‘warning’, happened during the match being played prior to the eventually abandoned game.
Local knowledge, is a law of its own in the Territory.
Many people at the ground on that night, would swear black and blue, that the location of the predicted cyclone, was still a long way off. That it was unlikely to cause any more concern than was already being felt, from the strong wind gusts and rain.
In fact, for many people at the stadium that night, the first time they’d heard we had moved from a ‘watch’ to a ‘warning’, was when the PA announcement came over that the 2nd Semi-Final was to be abandoned.
Q1: Was the AFLNT’s initiative to abandoned the game on the above information justified?
The events that unfolded after this call where fair to say, calamitous. Not wanting to reschedule the NTFL Grand Final, by pushing the season back a week. The AFLNT made the decision to replay the St Mary’s V Wanderers match on the following Tuesday evening. Interestingly, the decision to do this was made on Sunday (5th March) while the city of Darwin was still under a cyclone warning.
Q2: Was this the first recognition that the call made the evening before was not the right one?
The facial nature of the situation continued when the Wanderers Football Club were restricted in who they could play due to NTFL By-Law 5.2 Player Eligibility – NTFL Finals Matches, which is an amendment to the AFLNT by-laws, and states that:
A player is eligible to play a premier league finals match for a club if that player has played a minimum of five (5) home & away matches for that club‟s [sic] premier league team.
So in the AFLNT’s infinite wisdom, the NTFL competition now has a rule that stops players from playing up at the highest level. For many football pundits, this is an unprecedented approach to governing a football competitions highest level, and definitely considered to be counterproductive the progression of the youth within it.
As a result of this rule Wanderers Football Club, were left struggling for numbers in order to field a side, on that horrendous Tuesday evening. The AFLNT blames this instance on the clubs over reliance of ‘Fly in / Fly out’ players. Wanderers may have an over reliance on these types of players, however the majority of them are local players who have moved south, or at least been long time regulars for the club.
The end result is a match is commenced and abandoned due to Wanderers not belong able to field the require numbers to complete a match.
From the AFLNT’s perspective they believe that Wanderers actions were clearly an act to flout the laws of the game, and as a result bring the game into distribute. From Wanderers perspective they believed that the actions of the AFLNT were unjust and placed unwarranted restrictions upon them to compete fairly.
The reality is though that no one came out of this smelling like flowers.
Therefore the governing body of Territory Football, the AFLNT, felt there was no option other than to instigate an investigation into the incident. The AFLNT had to prove that Wanderers actions were erroneous and ensure that they were seen to be punished for their indiscretions.
If there were parameters for the investigation, they weren’t publicly released, and keeping them in house only tarnished the embodiment of what was trying to be achieved.
In situations like these, the person with the big stick, needs to make sure that are portraying an authoritative approach, rather than authoritarian approach. However the AFLNT choose to simply invoke AFLNT By-Law, “Show Clause Notice” (10.6), which tells the clubs that if the AFLNT believes there may be a requirement to take further action over any incident, the can do so.
Here lies an enigmatic mistake, if the AFLNT wants to instigate change in the behaviour of the clubs, they should design a process for investigating and resolving complaints of alleged violations of their policies, that is fair, neutral, and equitable.
The subsequent mistake was allowing the investigation to be referred to as “a long and in-depth investigation by parent body the AFL“. There were many dubious decisions made through this embarrassing process, so to allow it to be turned into a ‘witch hunt’ was not the most fitting approach to take.
Furthermore, to lay the blame solely at the feet of the President of the Wanderers Football Club was inequitable and past Wanderers President, Steve Olsson was right to condemn this.
The NTFL competition is still, only a country league competition, that may offend some, however it is the reality. The reality is that the these clubs are not elite, they are run purely on the back of hard working volunteers, they scrape together funds each season to compete and they rely on snaring a quality player or two each season, to have a successful Premier League campaign.
Steve Olsson is also right in saying that the AFLNT is wrong in not accepting any of the blame themselves. The arguments in favour of this, are either, or all of the following:
- the calling of a match that didn’t need to be,
- the rescheduling the match on a Tuesday evening,
- the introduction of nonsensical By-Law that prohibits eligible club players from playing up.
Yet regardless of these decisions, the end result is a volunteer is being criticised publicly for his lack of knowledge in the By-Laws of the competition.
The question should be:
“what level of responsibility does a governing body have towards the programs it runs?”
If you look at the Australian Sports Commissions Governance Principles, governance operates initially under three key areas:
- how an organisation develops strategic goals and direction
- how the board of an organisation monitors the performance of the organisation to ensure it achieves these strategic goals, has effective systems in place and complies with its legal and regulatory obligations
- ensuring that the board acts in the best interests of the members.
It is point 3 that sticks out the most, there has to be consideration of the level of responsibility a governing body has towards its members.
Therefore the question is “Did the AFLNT operate in the best interests of its Members?”