Their opinion is not expressed that they don’t want someone from the encouragement team to be elected, nor do they want Brendon Fevola or Dougie Hawkins to become president instead of a partner. by KPMG. The ‘names committee’ can’t actually prevent someone from running for the board, but it makes sure that if you run, you won’t get approval from the top – and that’s usually enough. to kill an application.
There are, of course, good reasons to keep the club in the hands of people who are experts in balance sheets, governance and corporate networks. In the 2020s, government relations are another key, given the insatiable need for handball by taxpayers.
So the messy and vexed appointment of Dr Bridie O’Donnell, a former cyclist and state government mandarin with a slim connection to Collingwood (as her social media posts have shown), to fill a post vacant on the board of directors (to which she is not yet eligible), is a case of business as usual – common practice in an AFL club. As Eddie McGuire explained on Footy Ranked, she was far from the first to have been appointed to its (now ex) board of directors without the time required as a member of the club.
The problem for Collingwood executives, especially politically deaf president Mark Korda, was that they had completely misinterpreted the restless mood of their members, some of whom quickly noticed Dr O’Donnell’s lack of Collingwood-ness. Assaulted by the fire and continuing to lose, a few are threatening to topple the club’s board of directors and will collect signatures outside the MCG on Sunday. If Collingwood had contested the election for the past two decades, I doubt such extreme measures are in the wind.
In these peaceful times of bountiful victories, Collingwood members didn’t care who got appointed to the club’s board of directors. Many still don’t care about the lack of key midfielders and attackers. Dr O’Donnell’s position is much less important to fans than Nathan Buckley’s.
But O’Donnell’s story underscored the gulf that opened between club hierarchies and their members and the democratic deficit became problematic throughout the AFL ecosystem; Collingwood, as always, is just the club that we notice.
Contested elections are rare in AFL clubs. Essendon has had a few real elections, and the favorites on the board have prevailed every time (narrowly in 2014, when the drug saga was a problem). Carlton has had the same challengers run twice, without success, in the past two years.
Clubs are also telling candidates the election will cost tens of thousands of dollars and that it is not uncommon – as happened in Collingwood under Eddie in 2017 – for the president to dissuade a restless and well-heeled member from to present oneself.
In truth, few board members are selected to appease the members, according to Kevin Sheedy in Essendon. No, the relevant stakeholder – as in the case of Dr O’Donnell – is more often the sponsors or the government. Or he / she has the necessary legal / accounting / business skills.
Since only a fraction of a club member’s base vote or even know there is an election, clubs rarely have to do what politicians should theoretically attempt – sell their vision and their candidates and get a real warrant.
The risk for the clubs – and the game – is that the gulf continues to widen between decision-makers and those on whose behalf they serve, much like what happened within the ALP and the Coalition and, in fact, in all western democracies.
What is needed is a much deeper engagement with the members and more than lip service that the members – at least in Victorian clubs (non-Victorian teams have different rules) – are the club owners. They should host the election, lay out their vision and sell it – and digital technology should make it easier.
Clubs have never been more dependent on the munificence of their members than during the pandemic, when most gave their money away for no game.
Instead of worrying that the crowd will elect a footballer who can only read a form guide, the councils should be supporting themselves.