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THE AFL COMMISSION AND PLAYERS' COMMUNITY RESPONSIBILITY

Australian football is an art form requiring both physical and cognitive skills. The required skill sets at the elite level take time to develop through ingrained practise, refinement and reflection, specifically in terms of developing game nous and game decision-making, coupled with ongoing training for fitness, strength and endurance conditioning. Hand to foot coordination using an oval shaped football is challenging enough but when a whole suite of skills needs to be executed perfectly under game conditions one can start to appreciate the work ethic required to perform at the elite level. Indeed, AFL football has evolved into an art form attracting an ever-growing public of aficionados. The scrutiny AFL players are subject to extends far beyond on-field performance, from the watchful eye of ASADA, and news thirsty media, to photo snapping public. Unfortunately some individuals within the football community behave in socially unacceptable ways and draw attention to themselves, damaging their own reputation and that of the brand, not to mention public cost.

Consumption of the game as a visual spectacle carries with it for the

AFL a burden of continued image protection against potential damage to its product and brand image. This places the AFL as a business organisa- tion under market scrutiny within an ethical space. In the last ten years or so the game has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Combined AFL Club memberships in 2013 exceeded 800,000 financial members, and the game attracts millions of television viewers and non-financial supporters worldwide. AFL sponsored community programmes extend throughout Australia and some are run internationally. The influence that the AFL engenders through player celebrity due to the growth of the game as a spec- tacle and entertainment source has produced not only increasing numbers of game enthusiasts as it grows and spreads geographically, but extends in terms of cultural influence. This is made evident through its growing net- work of community programmes and commercial associations, which should not be underestimated. The AFL endorses several programmes such as the national children's football programme 'NAB Auskick' and AFL New Zealand 'Kiwi Kick' (AFL NAB Auskick, 2013). The AFL, with the assistance of the Australian Government Department of Health, uses Australian football as a vehicle to improve the quality of life in Indigenous communities, not only in sport, but also in the areas of employment, educa- tion and health. The AFL has been integral in establishing 'five Indigenous Academies designed to increase school attendance, completion of year 12, and Indigenous participation in sport' (AFL, Kickstart Indigenous Programs, 2013). Each academy varies according to the local needs and opportunities and some academies are co-educational. Some also offer other 'sports in addition to football such as netball, soccer, basketball, vol- leyball, and rugby league' (AFL, Kickstart Indigenous Programs, 2013). Because of this broadening network of honourable associations coupled with the significant cultural influence it carries, the AFL must take stock of its governance procedures and practices.

THE AFL AS A PRACTICE COMMUNITY

When it comes to player character development the AFL clubs already pro- vide education programmes, specific to AFL regulatory conditions and penalties. Accordingly, one issue of concern is whether these education programmes are sufficient to meet the AFL's own expectations. Players come to understand their obligations in terms relative to the expectation of game reputation (Code of Conduct). Indeed conduct from any member of the AFL bringing the game into ill-repute attracts heavy penalties, as wit- nessed with the severe penalties incurred by the Essendon Club most recently. As part of this player education programme the aim is to instil an understanding regarding following rules, such as likely umpiring rule inter- pretations relative to game on-field performance, extending to rules of con- duct when off-field and in public, etc. Many players, particularly younger recruits, nowadays have life coaches as well. In summary the AFL has a rule-based compliance culture. However, following rules alone as a basis of good conduct or for character development is clearly insufficient. On any given day one need only open a daily newspaper to see some identified player's scandalous behaviour brandished within the sports section. This is reason enough for the AFL to consider another approach to its player ethi- cal education programmes.

The culture of an organisation can be characterised as rule-based com- pliance or value-based compliance. In rule-based compliance organisations an agent before engaging in action may ask: May I? The question from this perspective concerns the legality of the action. The rule itself is the ultimate basis for decision-making. In a value-based compliance organisation an agent before engaging in action will instead ask: Should I? The question from this perspective concerns the ethical nature of the action. As Josephson summarises:

In a rules-based culture there is a minimalist attitude - just do what is required - and efforts to 'bend' the rules or make strained but plausible interpretations of the rules to justify desired conduct can result in behaviors that are legal but undesirable (i.e., lawful but awful).

In contrast, an ethical culture is values-based, dominated by core ethical beliefs and convictions (i.e., values about what is right and good) which underlie each rule or pol- icy. Thus, rules and policies are interpreted and applied in relation to traditional ethical values such as honesty, respect, fairness and responsibility and while employees are expected to know and follow rules and policies they are expected to make a good faith effort to honor the spirit (i.e., purpose) of the rules as well as the letter. (Josephson, 2012)

Annas (2011) in Intelligent Virtue describes virtue and skill as similar in that they unite two things, the 'need to learn' and the 'need to aspire'. Annas develops two central ideas: first, that acquiring and exercising virtue is comparable to acquiring and exercising a practical skill like playing ten- nis or playing the piano; and second, that virtue is part of a person's happiness or flourishing. Embracing this virtue developmental process with a slightly different structure produced by MacIntyre (2013) would suit the needs of the AFL. MacIntyre makes a distinction between 'internal goods' and 'external goods'. His scheme revolves around the notion of a 'practice community' and to illustrate this conception he used football (among other examples) to explain the process. A 'practice community' as MacIntyre defines it is:

Any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve the standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended. (MacIntyre, 2013, p. 218)

External goods are characterised as those achieved acquisitions like power, fame, property and possessions such that the more one gains the less there is for others. External goods 'characteristically are objects of competition'.

With the AFL more specifically, the premiership can only be won by

one team. The season consists of a home and away series of games, reach- ing a crescendo on grand final day where the two finalists compete for the ultimate glory. Another award is the Brownlow Medal (Fairest and Best player as nominated by the Umpires during the Home and Away Season). In this sense game participation promotes internal goods as an outcome of the competition to excel. Yet characteristically their achievement is a 'good for the whole community who participate in the practice' (MacIntyre, 2013,

p. 220). Hemphill (2009, p. 318) articulates the point that internal goods

'can be specified only in terms drawn from the activity itself, recognized only by people experienced in the activity and realized only by participating in the activity well as judged by its standards of excellence'. MacIntyre (2013, pp. 221-223) pertinently equates these internal goods with virtues. Achieving these goods requires of us that we subordinate 'ourselves within the practice in our relationship to other practitioners' by learning to recog- nise 'what is due to whom'; be prepared to take 'whatever self-endangering risks are demanded along the way'; and listen carefully to accounts that deliver observations about our own inadequacies and respond carefully to the facts. We have to accept as 'necessary components of any practice with internal goods and standards of excellence the virtues of justice, courage and honesty'.

From this perspective Hemphill (2009, p. 318) contends that 'winning at all costs, including the use of drugs is unacceptable. Winning in sport has value not simply because of the external rewards it can generate for cham- pions, but because it stands for something: practice excellence'. He con- cludes that an athlete's efforts to achieve and even extend the standards of excellence are intelligible and legitimate only within the context of certain shared purposes and acceptable means in the sport practice community (2009, p. 318). The parallels with the AFL are significant yet it needs to recognise this perspective and to pursue cultural change through a develop- mental process. My contention is that ALF players can benefit from learn- ing character development when integrated within virtue ethics and a value-based compliance understanding. The standards of excellence and internal goods are sport specific, and have undergone historical shifts, but essentially they provide a framework for judging when an individual action is regarded as acceptable as opposed to when it is 'cheating or unsporting' (2009, p. 318). Using performance-enhancing drugs is unsporting because it is in breach of the virtues of justice and honesty. Intentionally targeting an injured player on the field behind the play and away from the ball goes against the spirit of the game even though the action may not breach the rules of the game. It is an unsavoury form of conduct, as is the use of illicit drugs within the ethical space of a practice community.

Playing the game of football would not inspire the faithful were it not for the integrated virtues of justice, courage and honesty. These virtues are well understood in this context and do not need rehearsing here, though pertinent and integral to the sport of AFL are the necessary virtuous values of trust, respect and honour. Trust within the practice community of AFL football consists in the expression shown towards one's team mates, the coaches, and club administrative staff. This extends to the Players Association whose central concern lies in player fiduciary interest and wel- fare. Respect is a value most explicitly fostered in the relationship to one's team mates and coaches and to the opposing combatants. Honour is a value fostered not only at the team and club level but demonstrated most explicitly towards the members and regular fans. The honour bestowed in winning the grand final as the ultimate prize fuels the aspiration of every player, club and fan. In this sense players do learn virtues through the pursuit of game excellence. However, for many players translating game excellence into off-field civil conduct seems to get lost in translation. By recognising itself as a practice community the AFL would foster the devel- opment of goods internal to the practice of the game. These, in part, equate to the development of football skills required to play well and according to game rules in coordination with teammates. Internal goods also consist in the enjoyment derived from exercising and development of associated abilities and values integral and consistent with itself as a practice community. Development of goods internal to the practice of football can significantly affect character development and behaviour on and off the field.

A cynic might conjecture that perhaps the underlying motivation for the AFL community support programmes is to ensure a stock of future players and spectators. Whilst this no doubt is part of the mix it is also fair to point out that the community programmes endorsed by the AFL do in fact include teaching ethics. Easily identifiable programmes are those focusing on fairness and community values relative to social justice issues (i.e. racism, alcoholism, sexual abuse, etc.). The failure to achieve the expecta- tion placed on player public conduct in all matters prejudicial to the AFL's image shows that not enough is being done in terms of player education relative to character development. Furthermore, due to its cultural influ- ence the AFL ought to strengthen its management of club and player value-based compliance concerns in line with its governance responsibility. Implementing a player education programme inclusive of virtue ethics and value-based compliance understanding will facilitate its compliance concern and ensure better governance on its own part.

I accept one reviewer's comments that the programme recommended here is unlikely to transform AFL players into virtuous agents. Yet few would doubt that cultural and behavioural change can best be achieved through appropriate educational processes and practices. The notion of education is a broad term encompassing wide and varied methods and aims and so constructing the appropriate framework within which the para- meters for considering what the education should consist of, expected out- comes, and delivery modes makes the world of difference to its adaptation and application. Ideologically the AFL in regarding itself as a practice community will enable significant transformative cultural changes that will go a long way to improve its own governance concerns and further towards the development of player character once realising themselves as part of a virtue and value-based practice community. Clubs do not exist in isolation even though the basis of the relationship between the clubs is one of com- petition. The competition cannot flourish without cooperation. The com- munity of teams and their associated agents constitute the nexus of a practice community which is the AFL proper, yet that very understanding still needs to be recognised by the participants. As I will illustrate in the next section, the AFL has another community concern on its hands in live- odds gambling advertising surrounding televised games and football televi- sion programmes.


 
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