Hird back with swipe at AFL

The AFL still has a problem with tolerance of other points of view, James Hird told ABC Radio National’s The Ticket. Courtesy ABC.



James Hird’s icy relationship with the AFL shows no sign of thawing, with the former Essendon coach taking aim at the League for a lack of tolerance of other points of view and for a tardy reaction to the booing of Adam Goodes this year.

Hird has stayed out of the spotlight since he left the Bombers in August, but made a rare foray back into the public eye at the weekend to hope that 2016 would about “facts” rather than public relations spin when it came to sports administration.

On ABC Radio National’s The Ticket weekly sports program, Hird said he hoped 2016 would be “about the facts in everything”. 

Back in spotlight: James Hird returned to the airwaves at the weekend.

Back in spotlight: James Hird returned to the airwaves at the weekend. Photo: 3AW


Hird, whose resignation became inevitable as Essendon’s on-field form plummeted in 2015, said he saw many current ills in world sport stemming from the dominant trend of centralisation.

“Good things have come of that, because there’s been more money flowing into sport,” he said. “But with that centralisation has come power and greed, and when the wrong sort of people have power they turn the sport a certain way,” he said.

Reaching out: New Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner wants to bring James Hird back into the fold

Reaching out: New Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner wants to bring James Hird back into the fold Photo: Getty Images

“There are very good sporting bodies across the world, but certainly there are examples here in this country of where the centralisation of everything has meant that it’s very hard for anyone to speak out against the governing body.”

Hird said many sporting bodies were heavy-handed when it came to criticism of their conduct. He cited as an example the bitter pay dispute between the Australian national women’s soccer team, the Matildas, and Football Federation Australia.

“I think it’s very hard for an athlete … to actually speak their mind, because strong sporting organisations do manage to have the media on their side.

“And, also, there are certain rules you have to abide by if you want to play in that sport, and I think that’s why the Matildas and what they did is quite incredible, because the ramifications of doing that  â€“ the Matildas’ tour of the US was cancelled â€“ the sporting body can take away your ability to play.

“If the threat of that is put to you, then most people are silent. 

“People who do stand up, I think it’s to be commended.”

Hird â€“ whose own legal battles against ASADA and the AFL were estimated this year may have cost him up to $1 million â€“ argued that “brand-protection and PR are a big part of sport, and in world sport I think they seem to be more important than truth and ethics, and what’s fair and real”.

The former Essendon captain said one of the few things he could savour in 2015 was that the 34 Essendon players involved in the supplements scandal escaped penalty from the AFL anti-doping tribunal.

That verdict was appealed by the World Anti-Doping Authority. A verdict in the subsequent hearing, before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is expected soon.

Hird also carpeted – albeit again not by name – AFL chief executive Gill McLachlan for his reluctance to classify persistent booing of Sydney’s Adam Goodes as racially motivated.

“It was very disturbing to watch … because I think everyone in the AFL world was pretty confident that they’d done a lot to remove racism, and that racism was well and truly removed,” Hird said.

“For people to say there was an element in the booing of Adam Goodes that wasn’t racist is wrong.

“Adam had every right – and I think everyone had every right – to be disappointed by the crowd, and then the commentary, initially by people in authority, who said that people are entitled to support their team. That’s ridiculous, because there were racist overtones to the booing.”

“I thought the commentary was the most disappointing, from people in power, because it’s unacceptable and it should have been talked about as being in an unacceptable fashion from day one.”

At the beginning of the last season, the AFL chief said that while he intensely disliked the booing of Goodes he did not think it was unquestionably motivated by racism.

“I am not sure [racism] is there. If you take the Hawthorn game, Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne have been the most loved and revered players in the Hawthorn playing group,” McLachlan said 3AW in May. “I am not sure it’s as simple and easy as that.”

McLachlan later took a much stronger stance when the booing of Goodes rekindled later in the year.