“Talk about the AFL scandal as much as you like, but keep the women out of it.”

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The intersection between money, sport, power, sex and business is a pesky one, isn’t it?

Just ask the AFL this week, who, knowing the power of a scandal and the public’s innate curiosity with the players in one, pre-empted a tenacious media that would latch onto a story about two high-profile executives having “inappropriate” relationships with young female staffers.

AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan held a press conference, announced the resignations of both AFL football manager Simon Lethlean and commercial boss Richard Simkiss and a story that had quiet legs within the organisation sensationally burst into public discourse.

“People have made two significant mistakes and have been held to account,” McLachlan told reporters.

“I think we are being clear about what we stand for as an organisation and the two men have taken accountability for their actions in a way that I think is commendable.”


McLachlan was careful but clear. This was about the AFL, Lethlean and Simkiss. This was about professionalism and respect within an organisation – and industry – which has been occasionally accused of lacking both. This was about the AFL’s reputation, a reputation McLachlan has painstakingly worked on, and this was about men with responsibility held accountable for their irresponsibility. This was about families, too.

This wasn’t about women.


And yet, a day on, it’s all about the women. Where they’re holidaying, who they’re currently dating, whether they’re on leave, their future in the industry.

Their faces are populating mainstream sites, their social media accounts ransacked for the juiciest photos.

I work in the media, I consume the media. I’m well-versed in our inherent curiosity in the faceless women alluded to but not focused on. I understand the idea that sometimes a hint ignites greater hunger.

There’s nothing that says these women aren’t adult and don’t have agency. There’s nothing that says they were forced into relationships with co-workers. But the very essence of this story centres on the men involved, and the power they held.

No high-profile AFL executives, no story.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

In breaking the story, the Herald Sun reported AFL insiders were concerned with how women were being treated at the organisation, and so whistleblowers sought to bring the relationships to light.

The AFL's hard-nosed, no-nonsense response also comes as the organisation considers a report into a review of its respect and responsibility policy towards women. The report, compiled by Rapid Context, was given to the organisation last month. The very crux of this is a story about two men in power arguably abusing that power.

Sure, that's not to say these women may or may not have made mistakes and may or may not have regrets. But what's missing in this conversation is the recognition that the very nature of Simkiss and Lethlean's jobs were powerful and public - ones eyed by the media and the public alike.

These women had neither of these jobs, and none of those trappings. And for that reason, perhaps they should stay faceless after all.

Maybe, in the intersection between money, sport, power, sex and business, the women's names are irrelevant.

The argument for avoiding romantic relationships with the people you work with:


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