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Rule-breakers: a short history of 'conduct unbecoming'

Peter Ryan  August 13, 2013 9:19 PM

AFL 2011 Media - Dean Bailey Media Conference 010811

Former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey was found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the AFL

Rule 1.6
Where the Commission is of the opinion that a person (or club) has contravened the provisions of the Memorandum or Articles of Association or the AFL Regulations or the AFL Player Rules or has been involved in conduct which is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute, the Commission may deal with any such matter in such manner as the Commission in their absolute discretion think fit and without limiting their power they may:

(a) refer any matter to the Tribunal or other body or person appointed by the
Commission:
(b) appoint any person to inquire into any matter;
(c) conduct their own disciplinary inquiry into any matter; and/or
(d) impose a monetary sanction as provided in these Regulations/Player Rules


Click here for our full coverage of the Essendon supplement scandal

The history of conduct unbecoming
The AFL announced on Tuesday night it had charged Essendon and four officials -  coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid and football manager Danny Corcoran - under rule 1.6.

Although the rule relating to conduct unbecoming or prejudicial to the interests or reputation of the AFL has been applied to both big and comparatively trivial matters in the past 30 years, it has not often been applied.

It was the rule that saw Hawthorn champion Leigh Matthews charged and deregistered for four weeks in 1985 after striking Geelong's Neville Bruns behind the play at Princes Park.

The incident created massive headlines and brought the rule into the public's consciousness.

West Coast met with the AFL Commission in April 2007 and was warned it could be charged under rule 1.6 if it did not continue to implement programs to change the culture of club after reports of player misbehaviour.

At the time, the AFL Commission put all clubs and all players on notice, stating poor player behaviour was unacceptable.

In November 2007, Brownlow medallist Ben Cousins was charged with bringing the game into disrepute after a very public battle with drug addiction and his arrest in Perth.

Although police charges were withdrawn, Cousins was deregistered for a year but the AFL Commission allowed him to re-register for the 2009 season on the condition he agreed to a rigorous drug testing program and that an appropriate drug and alcohol management program was in place at any club with which he wished to resume his career.

In relation to the Eagles, the AFL Commission sought a report from Justice Bill Gillard and considered the findings of the Cowan Scudamore report at the start of 2008. It found the club had made serious inroads into changing the club's culture and no charges were laid.
The next most high profile case came when Melbourne was found not guilty of tanking in February 2013.

The club accepted a financial penalty of $500,000 for the actions of coach Dean Bailey and football manager Chris Connolly, who received suspensions after being charged under rule 1.6 for acting in a manner that was prejudicial to the interests of the AFL.

Other players and coaches have faced the serious charge for comparatively trivial matters.

In 2002, former Western Bulldogs and Richmond forward Nathan Brown and Port Adelaide star Chad Cornes were charged after making insulting gestures to the crowd.

Brown was fined $5000 and Cornes $3000 respectively.

In 2005, St Kilda coach Grant Thomas was charged for making comments at a midweek press conference about the direction and culture of umpiring. He was fined $10,000 and given a suspended sanction of $5000 for a previous breach of AFL rule 1.6.

St Kilda was fined $5000 also under AFL Regulation 16.1 for the same incident.

In 2004, the AFL Commission considered whether a sponsorship arrangement between the Brisbane Lions and Cadbury-Schweppes constituted a breach of the AFL regulations or conduct unbecoming, as Coca-Cola was a protected AFL sponsor.

Other high-profile cases often perceived to be heard under charges relating to bringing the game into disrepute, such as the Carlton salary cap scandal and the Adelaide-Tippett affair, were dealt with under draft rules.

But once again, a club and individuals within face charges of conduct which is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute.

Once again, champions of the game are involved.

We await the AFL Commission's decision on Monday, August 26.

TIMELINE

July 1985
Leigh Matthews (Hawthorn)
- Struck Geelong player Neville Bruns behind the play in a game at Princes Park
- Deregistered for four weeks by the VFL Commission for conduct unbecoming of a VFL player

April 2002
Nathan Brown (Western Bulldogs)
- Delivering an insulting gesture to the crowd during game at Docklands (now Etihad Stadium)
- Fined $5000

July 2002
Chad Cornes (Port Adelaide)
- Delivered an insulting gesture to the crowd during match against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval (now Patersons Stadium).
- Fined $3000 under the provisions of the AFL's Rules and Regulations concerning conduct unbecoming or prejudicial to the interests of the AFL.

April 2004
Brisbane Lions
- Sponsorship agreement with Cadbury-Schweppes that potentially impinged on the AFL's agreement with protected sponsor Coca-Cola.
- AFL Commission considered whether the arrangement constituted a breach of the AFL Regulations, or conduct which is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the reputation or interests of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute.
- The club was fined $500,000, with $400,000 of that suspended for three years subject to the Lions adhering to the AFL's marketing guidelines.

August 2005
Grant Thomas (St Kilda coach)
- For comments he made regarding the direction and culture of umpiring.
- Fined $10,000 and given a suspended sanction of $5000 for a previous breach of AFL rule 1.6
- St Kilda also sanctioned $5000 also under AFL Regulation 16.1

November 2007
Ben Cousins
- Drug addiction.
- Deregistered for a year for bringing the game into disrepute after a series of off-field incidents.
- Allowed to re-register for 2009 season subject to a rigorous drug testing program and an appropriate drug and alcohol management program in place at any club he wished to resume his career.

April 2007
AFL Commission met with West Coast in relation to its players' off-field behaviour in April.
- At that meeting the Eagles outlined its initiatives to change the behaviour. They were given conditions to meet and warned they may face conduct unbecoming charges if they appeared before the AFL Commission again with the same issue.

February 2013
Melbourne tanking investigation
- Chris Connolly suspended until February 1, 2014 for acting in a manner concerning pre-game planning, comprising comments to a football department meeting which were prejudicial to the interests of the AFL during the 2009 premiership season.
- Dean Bailey suspended from coaching for the first 16 rounds of 2013 for having regard to Connolly’s comments acted in pre-game planning in a manner, which was prejudicial to the interests of the AFL during the 2009 premiership season.
- The Melbourne Football Club accepted it bore ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the club personnel in key roles, and agreed with the AFL to a fine of $500,000.
- It was found not guilty however of tanking.

Note: The relevant rule was updated in the off-season as part of the AFL's regular review of its internal processes. It saw the previous rule 1.6 re-numbered and re-structured as rule 2.1. However, the current charges were made under the previous rule as the alleged offences occurred during 2012 before the rule was updated.