Sports journalist Michael Warner’s new book has unearthed some shocking claims about the treatment of women in the Australian Football League’s administration.
The Boys’ Club, just released in May, is the inside story of Australia’s biggest sport and the powerful organisation that runs it.
Speaking to Women’s Agenda’s Editor-in-Chief Tarla Lambert on the Women’s Agenda Podcast, Warner said the book was a three-and-a-half-year project that left him feeling quite disturbed.
“I spoke to more than a dozen women who detailed grievances to me as what they described as an unsafe workplace,” he said.
“This book’s about the administration and some of the of the stories that these women told me were disturbing and frightening.
“They thought they’d been failed by not just the business, but the human resources part of the business, which is supposed to be a safe haven for issues and grievances through work.”
In the podcast, Warner talks about the use of confidentiality agreements by the AFL to silence women, that have also been reported by Jess Halloran in The Australian recently.
“Many of the victims say this is what is preventing them from speaking out about their experiences,” Warner said.
The response from the AFL included a statement from CEO Gillon McLachlan, who said he was willing to meet with some of the women involved. Warner said these sorts of meetings cannot happen unless they are part of a formal process.
“It was rightfully pointed out by Prue Gilbert that if these sort of meetings were to take place, it needed to take place as part of a formal, independent investigation into the workplace,” he said.
“For a sport as big and powerful as the Australian Football League, they obviously – like so many different parts of the country, including the parliament – need to do so much better in this space.”
Warner said what is most alarming to him, since the release of The Boys’ Club, is that there hasn’t been a response from the AFL’s Commission, which sits above the AFL executive and is led by Richard Goyder. The lack of response from the Commission has been surprising, considering the enormous sponsorship the AFL has, from some of Australia’s biggest and most reputable brands.
“That’s where the pressure comes, more often than not,” Warner said, referring to sponsors. “When Eddie McGuire was forced out of Collingwood in February, ultimately it was the sponsors around the club that couldn’t be denied in the end. They couldn’t contain it, because the sponsors were wary of their brands being dragged down.”
Warner says getting more women into top leadership positions in the administration side of the AFL is essential to ending its toxic culture. You only need to look at the positive impact of Peggy O’Neal, who has been the president of Richmond since 2013, as an example.
“There was a bit of a power struggle going on, and Peggy came through the middle. The way her leadership has been able to lower the temperature at Richmond – she’s been in the background focusing on governance,” Warner explains.
“A leader like that at the AFL, running the Commission but even as a CEO, would be a good thing for the game.”
Listen to Michael Warner’s interview on the latest episode of the Women’s Agenda Podcast, on Apple or Spotify.