Stepping down at the end of the Australian Football League (AFL) season, chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan has been quoted as saying he wanted to leave when the “AFL was in as good a shape as it can be”.
While that may be true of the actual game, his legacy to society is completely different. McLachlan is leaving the AFL in bed with gambling and multinational bookmakers and contributing on a massive scale to the gambling problems affecting the country's youth.
About one young person in every 25 has a problem with gambling — an average of one in every high school classroom — with teenagers being four times more likely to develop gambling problems than adults.
The game is riddled with gambling advertising from jumpers, to electronic signage at the games, ad breaks and sponsored crosses to celebrities letting us know the odds and the myriad of ways we can bet on every match.
Not only is the AFL celebrating gambling, under McLachlan’s watch it is looking for more ways to embed it into the game while celebrating the game and how to encourage more people to attend matches and watch it on TV.
Someone needs to tell McLachlan now about the flow-on impact of gambling on young people he is helping to create. These include poor academic performance, absenteeism from school, early school dropout and disrupted relationships with family and friends.
The seriousness of the problem has been identified and acknowledged at club level, with individual clubs exiting the pokies business (although some are still taking sponsorship money from bookmakers).
But McLachlan is ignoring it in the boardroom. While his time at the helm may be remembered for the growth of the West Australian Football League, more cash from sales of the TV rights and a successful negotiation of the COVID-19 pandemic, these short-term successes will be overshadowed by the damage the game is doing to a generation of young football lovers unless the AFL acts now.
McLachlan is heading out the door, leaving this problem in the too-hard basket for future CEOs.