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It's not just footy, AFL is concerned for a young girl's welfare

The Age

Friday February 25, 2011

Andrew Demetriou is chief executive of the AFL.

We've made progress in attitudes towards women, but there's still a way to go. IN THE frenzied rush to report and comment on the recent story involving an AFL player agent and a 17 year-old girl, a few things seem to have been overlooked.The most important is the young girl herself. As a vulnerable teenager, indeed child, it is her welfare that is paramount more important than Ricky Nixon or anybody else associated with the football industry.Let me be clear so nobody is under any misunderstanding about where the AFL stands on this sorry episode.First, the AFL shares the community's concerns for the welfare of this particular girl, as we do any young female or woman in the community. Despite some claims to the contrary, we have taken this matter extremely seriously. We have met, spoken with and had contact with her on numerous occasions since the matter first came to our attention last year.We have offered her support and we have also at various stages been in contact with the Education Department, Department of Human Services Child Protection, welfare support services and Victoria Police to see what assistance they could offer.We also had contact with her family to support them, and our offer of support remains open should she or her family wish to accept it.Second, the AFL remains strongly committed to its Respect and Responsibility program, which was developed in response to sexual assault allegations against AFL players in 2005. It was developed in consultation with experts in the fields of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as academics and AFL clubs.In recent years, the program has been overseen by Sue Clark, a former Victoria Police officer with 24 years' experience, and has been expanded to our state and community football leagues. The program's aim is to build safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for all women at all levels.It is a policy we take extremely seriously, as women are an integral part of our game and community. Females not only make up half of our supporter base, they also hold down key roles in our industry.Last year, more than 7 million people attended AFL matches and 614,000 people were members of AFL clubs. We are only too aware that this gives us an important leadership role in the community. That's why we have also supported a range of initiatives such as White Ribbon, which aims to eliminate violence against women, and Field of Women, to raise awareness for breast cancer.I am under no illusions that we have some way to go to change the attitudes and behaviour of some men towards women. It would be foolish to think otherwise. One of the things we've learnt from recent events is we may need to widen the Respect and Responsibility program to include player agents.The AFL is naturally very disappointed with the actions of Nixon. As he himself has stated, they were inappropriate and he must now answer to the AFL Players' Association, which is responsible for accrediting player agents. It is only fair to all parties that this process is able to run its course.As challenging as sometimes it can be, we are in this for the long haul and I've no doubt we have made progress. I am extremely proud of the overwhelming majority of our players, who spend more than 20,000 hours each year in the community in various programs.Many of these such as Ladder, a program to help accommodate young homeless people have been initiated by the players themselves. Often these initiatives receive very little publicity and neither is it sought.People such as Jim Stynes, Jason McCartney, Adam Goodes, Harry O'Brien and many others have inspired young people with their deeds not just on the field but off it.I believe modern AFL players are more educated and socially aware than ever before. But like any group in the community, including doctors, lawyers and tradespeople, some will occasionally make mistakes. It's how they as individuals and we as an industry respond to those mistakes that's important.As the father of three young girls, but also a boy, I am acutely aware of my responsibilities to instil in them proper and decent values. I don't want to just make a contribution to the game I love but also the community I live in.That includes all people who follow our game, but particularly those who may not be able to help themselves, including this young girl.As recent events across Australia and the world have demonstrated, there are many things far more important than what happens on the footy field. This is one of them.

© 2011 The Age

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