Sport Comment: AFL boss Gillon McLachlan comes of age with a string of tough calls

07:06  15 july  2017
07:06  15 july  2017 Source:   The Age

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Become a The Age member today. Join today and you can easily save your favourite articles, join in the conversation and comment , plus select which news your want direct to AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has expressed his disappointment at the events that led to the departures of two very senior staffers.

Most Popular. Two senior AFL staff quit after 'inappropriate' relationships. AFL boss Gillon McLachlan comes of age with a string of tough calls .

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For Gillon McLachlan, coming to the realisation on Thursday that he would be forced to terminate not one but two senior executives as a result of in-house affairs, was comparable to the various stages of grief.

Over the past six days there has been disbelief, denial, anger, acceptance and sadness. As recently as Friday morning, McLachlan was close to tears when he told staff that his football lieutenant and close friend Simon Lethlean was finished, along with the recently-appointed commercial boss Richard Simkiss.

Like so many inappropriate workplace relationships, the revelations in recent days of in-house affairs had involved dishonesty, cover-ups, hypocrisy and confusion.

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has expressed his disappointment at the events that led to the departures of two senior staffers. © Joe Armao AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has expressed his disappointment at the events that led to the departures of two senior staffers. Confusion because some at the league thought Monday's News Limited report of an in-house romance concerned a brief liaison between Lethlean and former Sydney AFL staffer Maddi Blomberg, the partner of Australian rugby star Kurtley Beale.

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Blomberg, who left her New South Wales AusKick position at the end of last season, had confided some personal details to a friend. The details later became public.

Illustration: Matt Golding © Provided by The Age Illustration: Matt Golding But Simkiss became collateral damage in a sense because other AFL staffers immediately concluded the report concerned him and his colleague from the AFL's legal ranks: Ali Gronow. The Simkiss affair had already seen him confronted by another female colleague unimpressed with what was unfolding.

Both Gronow and Simkiss, long-time lunchtime running partners, had previously denied their relationship to colleagues. But Gronow has not reported for work in recent days and it is not known whether she will return to the AFL.

Ali Gronow. © Provided by The Age Ali Gronow. Lethlean, who had overseen the launch of AFL Women's and returned on Wednesday from a family holiday, was understood to be due for another promotion. Well-connected, popular and one of the Old-Xaverians Football Club stalwarts, his departure has shattered his colleagues and the wider football family. That includes his close friend and groomsman Brad Scott. Simkiss too is a close friend of Scott's.

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If there had been any concern from his board about McLachlan's leadership when he took the job, it was that he would struggle to make tough calls on some of the men with whom he had come through the AFL ranks.

Football manager Simon Lethlean has resigned from the AFL. © Getty Images Football manager Simon Lethlean has resigned from the AFL. Those calls - calls McLachlan thought he would never have to make - were made at an emergency meeting of the Commission on Thursday where the new AFL chairman Richard Goyder and his board left McLachlan in little doubt as to where they stood on the matter. McLachlan, too, knew what had to be done.

The Commission was united in moving that both men must go. Goyder, the Westfarmers boss who led major cultural change at Bunnings and across the entire group, has on a number of occasions already this year shown his board will challenge the game's administration where necessary.

The Lethlean-Simkiss decisions have proved a horrific reality check for McLachlan who has, in a sense, truly grown up this week. He was forced into his coming-of-age moment after privately backing Channel Seven boss Tim Worner over the summer and more recently sacking diversity manager Ali Fahour after a history of on-field anger management issues which spiralled into violence.

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Kurtley Beale with Maddi Blomberg at Bondi Beach. © Don Arnold Kurtley Beale with Maddi Blomberg at Bondi Beach. McLachlan said he was disappointed in Lethlean and Simkiss. Both had been role models expected to set standards and they had to go once their indiscretions came to light, he said.

The AFL, under his leadership, stood for "integrity, respect, care for each other and responsibility". Senior leaders within his organisation signed up for personal scrutiny, McLachlan said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission appointed McLachlan as a male champion of change and he had vowed to lead cultural change within the AFL. Simkiss and Lethlean in various ways had also previously proved prime movers in that vein internally.

Rather than weaken his leadership, said McLachlan, the events of this week had strengthened it because it underlined the AFL's accountability. He admitted the AFL's image was "a work in progress".

Richard Simkiss. © Provided by The Age Richard Simkiss. A previously highly-regarded AFL executive, Andrew Catterall, once pointed out that the highly-charged, demanding and results-driven environment at head office led on occasion to macho behaviour that could be deemed inappropriate in other workplaces. He was himself sacked for a variety of offences including bullying.

McLachlan, when questioned on Friday about the high-octane nature of life at AFL House, said: "There's a set of unique pressures here but I'm not going find an excuse (for the affairs). There's no excuse".

Office romances are nothing new at league headquarters. At the time Andrew Demetriou was appointed AFL CEO some 15 years ago, his partner and more junior colleague Symone was pregnant with his twins. But on that occasion both parties were single.

On this occasion there was no suggestion of harassment or even a complaint lodged by the women concerned. Still, said McLachlan, the relationships were inappropriate. "The standards are there and everyone knows what they are."

The events of the past 48 hours have crystallised that.

AFL's culture around women improved greatly under Gillon McLachlan, ex-Bulldogs VP Susan Alberti says .
One of the AFL's most prominent female figures has hailed the league's progress around women's issues, in the wake of the resignation of two executives over "inappropriate relationships" with two women in the industry. It was announced on Friday that AFL football operations manager Simon Lethlean and commercial manager Richard Simkiss resigned over their "relationships with two younger women who work in the AFL industry".Susan Alberti, who resigned as Western Bulldogs vice-president last year and played a key role in establishing AFL Women's, said the scandal ran counter to the league's recent improvements.

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