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Speeches from the 2013 AFL launch

March 20, 2013 7:45 PM

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Swans co-captain Jarrad McVeigh

Sydney Swans co-captain Jarrad McVeigh
It's an honour to stand here representing my club and to speak on behalf of the captains of all 18 AFL teams.

As we look forward to the start of the 2013 season, I know how hard every player in the competition has worked over the past six months to prepare as well as they can for that first bounce of the ball.

There are about 700 players on AFL senior lists and every one of them has toughed it out during one of the hottest summers on record to be the best they can be this year.

They've all run gut-busting time trials in the scorching sun, they've kicked the ball thousands of times to be ready for round one.

Every time I walk on to the field for the Swans this year, I'll go out there with a huge amount of respect for our opposition.

I know when we line up against St Kilda that  Nick Riewoldt has put in the hard yards and he'll outwork most players on the field as he has been doing for the last decade.

I know that Joel Selwood will put his head over the ball and won't shy away from any contest. 

I know that Scott Pendlebury will run until he's ready to drop and then he'll run some more.

I know Gary Ablett will be doing what he has done since he was a teenager, leading the way for his team.

And when I shake their hands after the game I'll know they've done whatever they had to do for their teams …. that it's been a tough but fair contest.

As we start this season it would be naïve of me to ignore the fact some people believe there is a shadow over sport in Australia.

I trust the authorities and senior administrators of all sports are doing whatever needs to be done.

We live in a highly competitive environment and it's fine to challenge convention and push the boundaries to try to be better.

That's what we do when we stay on the track doing extra skills work, when we try to run PB's every year, when we spend more time on recovery.

But in the end, I believe that HARD WORK is the only secret and it will always prevail. 

At my club that's what will drive me and that's what will drive my teammates every single day  ….  

And I trust that every other team is doing exactly the same thing.

We preach honesty. We tell players to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself in the way you train, the way you prepare and the way you play.

And if anyone is not doing the right thing, they will be weeded out of the system - but that is rarely necessary.

There is so much that is good about our sport, and I've seen that ever since I started playing football as a young boy on the Central Coast of NSW.

Football has brought so much light to my own life.

The AFL football community, I know, is one where the values of fair play …  mutual respect … reward for effort …  and support for one another are paramount.

In the last two years I've experienced extreme lows and extreme highs - from the loss of our baby daughter Luella to another pregnancy and the birth of Lolita - and then the premiership last year.

I had such a range of emotions as I stood on the MCG after the final siren last September.

It was a massive high to know we had done it. 

To share that elation with teammates  was a very special moment for me, remembering what we had been through, but also celebrating what had been achieved. 

And it brought home to me that as terrible as things can be, over time they do get better.

But that couldn't have happened without the amazing support that I received from so many people, not only at my own club, but the entire AFL community.

I was touched by so many things and by so many good people: the Geelong players wearing black armbands just after Luella died; messages of support from players at other clubs; and the hundreds of well wishes I received from ordinary fans of all teams.

If anyone is questioning whether their kids should play footy after all that has gone on recently in the world of sport I can only say the vast bulk of footballers and football people are quality individuals with values I admire.

What I've learned during the past two years is that in the hard times your teammates are your brothers, your club's supporters are like family, and your peers at other clubs are your friends. 

Football and its people envelop you, embrace you, and help you stay strong.

My club and the game mean so much to me, as I'm sure they do for all the other captains.

We must hold true to the same core values of honesty, hard work, fair play and respect for others on and off the field.

At our club, we're not just Swans when we're wearing the red and white.

I'm a Swans player throughout my whole life in everything I do.

I take that responsibility very seriously and, along with the other leaders at the Swans,  I will continue to push my teammates in this area throughout 2013 and beyond.

Who knows where it will take us …. but we'll rest knowing that everything we do has strong foundations.

To all in the AFL community …. I want to wish you all the best for the year ahead…. It promises to be a cracker of a season…. Hopefully we will see you in September.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou
Tonight marks the tenth occasion I have been privileged to launch the season as Chief Executive of the AFL. This season also marks the tenth anniversary of the appointment of our chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick to the AFL Commission.

Ten is an important number, not just a milestone, but a fork in the road that allows for reflection, for analysis and for anticipation. Events over the past few months have made that audit trail even more important.

Back in 2004, the AFL's agenda was clear. The AFL's purpose, as presented in the Annual Report was:

• To grow the game via appropriate policies
• To recruit, retain and develop participants
• To connect with fans and community
• To manage responsibly and strive for financial growth and stability.

The reality is, no matter what the year, or the administration, or the circumstances, those points will always drive the AFL's agenda, and, on balance, the Commission has ensured our game has flourished in all those areas, and more, but there is still much to be done.

Experience is a great teacher—and moderator—in an ever-changing world. It gives you an acute sense of reality. 

I can see the blemishes—and strengths—that have passed under my watch during the last decade, and I can say with great surety, that despite some recent errors of judgment by some in the AFL community, myself included, despite some murmurings in the media calling for a new direction and a new culture for the AFL, despite the warnings given to us—and to sport in Australia—by the Australian Crime Commission, and the Federal Government, our game has never been stronger, never been supported with more passion, and has never had more potential and opportunity.

And the AFL community—from the Commission, through the Executive and the administration and to the clubs—has never been more alive and alert to continue its role to manage the game on behalf of our supporters.

To that end, we have made significant changes to our administrative structure, and more will follow over the next weeks.

I am delighted that Mark Evans has accepted the role of Football Operations manager, following in the footsteps of Adrian Anderson. Adrian did a wonderful job in his nine years in the chair, instituting and managing many vital changes to our ever-evolving game.

However, whenever there is a change of personnel, there is a change of approach, and Mark will be managing a new-look department, totally focused on football matters, including talent development, which has been part of Game Development for some years. In a sense, it's back to the future for Footy Ops, with the Integrity Department now part of a revamped AFL Legal Department.  

Many of these changes have come because we have listened to our supporters, but we need to get even closer to our fans, and a new Department—Fan and Community Engagement—will be instituted in the next month to ensure we are on top of any issue that may confront us.

We are in the entertainment industry, as well as the sports industry, and we must ensure that all of us—in the AFL and in the clubs—work together to ensure that our game remains the dominant sports entertainment in this country. Many will say the most exciting in the world. 

For the all the beauty of our game, these past months have not been positive for any of us. There's no avoiding that issue. 

Our fans have had reason to doubt us in recent months. We have had to deal with breaches of our rules by the Adelaide and Melbourne clubs. We have had Essendon coming forward and admitting flaws in its operations and seeking answers on its governance and processes, and we've had a cloud over all sport following our briefing by the Australian Crime Commission.
 
Serious matters all, and we cannot avoid this truth: what infects any of us, has the capacity to infect us all.

Our fans have quite reasonably been outraged by what's been happening, and with great justification. 

Many of our wonderful players and many brilliant sports medicine pracitioners are similarly angry—besmirched as they have been by poor behaviour, driven by poor values and poor judgments. 

That said, the ongoing attraction of our beautiful game, and the faith our fans have in its integrity and competitiveness, cannot be broken by the misdemeanours and misjudgments of a misguided few.

It is a time, in a sense, to slow down, to return to a more languid past to understand what it is that makes sport a wonderful thing to watch, to be part of. 

If our game is reduced to a madcap philosophy of winning at all costs then we have lost the spirit of sport and we need to pull out all stops to get it back. 


Some will scoff at that. Some will think the elite game is all about winning and winning is the only measure. 

It is not. 

In all parts of our life, we admire those who compete at their best, and win ethically. 

The AFL has flourished off the back of great athletes performing marvellous feats—without any assistance beyond their own genius. 

I was reminded of this when I read a recent description of Roger Federer, by the novelist, and sports fan J,M.Coetzee.  He could have been writing about any of our players, of Gary Ablett, or Lance Franklin, or Jobe Watson, or Scott Pendlebury: players of bravery, strength, courage, and that X-factor that separates them. He could have been writing about our game.

This is what he wrote: "One starts by envying Federer, one moves from there to admiring him, and one ends up neither envying nor admiring him, but being exalted at the revelation of what a human being—a being like myself—can be."

That sentence describes the sport we love, we oversee, and ultimately must protect from any assault from the unscrupulous, the unworthy.

The Commission, under Ron Evans and Mike Fitzpatrick hammered into me one key point that drives the best sporting administrations: we have a responsibility to hand over the game in better shape than that we inherited. 

We also have a responsibility to hand over the ethos of the game in better shape. 

The style of the play might change, the speed, strength and endurance of players might change, the science and stategies available to coaches might change, the training methods might change but the day we accept that players, coaches, officials, clubs can do anything in the pursuit of victory or advantage is the day we will lose the faith of the people who love the game far beyond winning or losing. 

I will say it again: our game is a beautiful game. It is resilient, it is never the same, it brings in new champions to excite us, as the previous generation moves on. 

In recent weeks, I have met with most of our clubs, and have stressed to them some emphatic truths. They, like us, have a singular responsibility—and that is to the game, and the integrity of the game. 

I was delighted, though not surprised, by the common purpose all the clubs expressed, and their shared view that we must be united in all our efforts to protect that integrity. 

The game owes us nothing—we owe everything to the game.

We are nothing without it.

I was proud of the way the Commission responded to our briefing by the ACC, rapidly enacting significant changes to the way we monitor our game, our systems, and our personnel—at all levels.

We approached serious matters with zeal, and purpose to stem the potential of any incursions at any level of the game's administration, supervision, coaching, or playing. 

But we cannot rely on rules alone. 

We have to act personally and collectively—all of us in the room tonight are agents of change.

Everything we do—or don't do—impacts on our game, its importance to our fans, and its capacity to impact on the broader society.

Finally, I wish to finish on an up. 

On Anzac Day, two of our foundation clubs, St Kilda and the Sydney Swans will make history, playing our first international match for premiership points, when they venture to Wellington New Zealand.

This is not just a significant event for Australian football, it is a marvellous commemoration of this sacred day for Australians and New Zealanders. 

I congratulate both clubs for taking this bold step - although the journey is not long; it is one giant step in taking our game into new frontiers.

The cynics may sneer at that, just as they sneered at the introduction of the Suns and the Giants into our competition, but why should our game have boundaries? 

Our potential is limited only by imagination, vision, and application. 

In that regard, 2013 must be a year of solidarity, of great purpose, blended by just the right mix of optimism and realism, and driven by the values that formed our game and the culture of our sport.

2013 is our chance to do great things for our game, to reset the foundations that have been shaken, and to drive our destiny to new outcomes, new successes and new pride.

2013 is the year that we remind everyone that Australian Rules Football is the greatest game—it's authentic, it's beautiful, it's eternal, and it's ours.

AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick
I want to add my welcome to everyone here tonight for the 2013 Toyota AFL Premiership Season Launch.

The images we have just seen of last year's nail-biting Grand Final and the reflections we have heard from Swans co-captain Jarrad McVeigh represent the very essence of our extraordinary game.

The contest was widely adjudged to be one of the all-time great Grand Finals, with the Swans kicking the last four goals of an ebbing and flowing game to claim their second premiership in seven seasons.

And while the match was a fierce contest from the first bounce, the players of both clubs are to be commended for the wonderful spirit in which it was played.  A terrific advertisement for Australia's game.

It was the pinnacle of a season played to a consistently exciting and high quality standard by all teams and players. Their on-field feats never fail to astonish and delight.
 
Congratulations to Swans Chairman Richard Colless, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Ireland, Senior Coach John Longmire, General Manager, Football Dean Moore, the players, board and staff for delivering a second premiership cup to Sydney and providing the perfect end to a year in which the club celebrated  the 30th anniversary of its move from South Melbourne.

The club has been a remarkably consistent performer reaching the finals in 14 of the last 17 seasons and contesting three Grand Finals which have been determined by a total of 15 points.

Richard Colless is the AFL's longest serving club chairman and since he became involved with the Swans, they have become the single largest sporting club in Sydney based on the number of members, attendances per game, national TV audiences and revenue.

I also want to congratulate Hawthorn President Andrew Newbold, Chief Executive Officer Stuart Fox, Senior Coach Alistair Clarkson, and General Manager, Football Mark Evans – soon to join the AFL of course – and also commend the Hawthorn players, board and staff for the continued success of the club.

It is now my great privilege to present the 2012 premiership flag to Swans Chairman Richard Colless on behalf of his club.

Congratulations.