AFL boss Gillon McLachlan just squibbed a chance to sanction Eddie McGuire

Photo: Scott Barbour/AFL Media.

When AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan was 30 minutes late to a media conference addressing Eddie McGuire’s comments about drowning a female journalist whose work he didn’t like, observers began to think something big was going to happen. Would this be the final straw from the outspoken Collingwood president? What action would the AFL take?

In the end, McLachlan did not even mention McGuire by name for “disparaging and insulting to a woman who has done so much for our game”.

McGuire described Fairfax Media’s chief football writer, Caroline Wilson, as “like the black widow” and said he pay $50,000 to see her held under water, then “charge $10,000 for everyone to stand around the outside and bomb her”,

McGuire says his comments were a joke and banter for a charity fundraiser.

Wilson labelled them “vicious”. She’s since written that his comments take her “back to the old days of The Footy Showwhen the former host and Collingwood president would line me up in an occasionally vile and foul-mouthed way and enlist his colleagues in a series of sexist gang tackles”.

Today the AFL boss spoke toughly, saying “in the past we might have just ignored the comments as part of the culture of footy” and that “we can’t say that we are committed to leading change if we don’t step up and call it out”.

“Casual language and jokes and threats to women are part of the problem,” McLachlan said.

But in the end, the game’s CEO decided he would take no further action against McGuire and the others involved, beyond demanding they apologise.

McLachlan did not ask the Collingwood boss, who has a history of inappropriate comments regarding players and the game, to stand down.

He says the women he consulted about the issue considered McGuire’s apology sufficient.

“People will pick it apart, but he did apologise,” McLachlan said.

McGuire’s apology was less than fulsome, attempting to explain it as harmless banter.

While saying violence against women was unacceptable, McGuire added that he was “really disappointed that these comments have led to these feelings from people”.

Meanwhile, McLachlan appeared to blame the game’s culture in general for not flagging the comments earlier.

Freelance sports journalist Erin Riley published a blog post on the issue on Saturday. McLachlan says he didn’t know about it until 4pm Sunday. He said the fact that a week had passed was “an indictment on everyone working in football”.

Evoking the theme of countless reality TV competitions, the AFL boss described the cultural shift he’s attempting to implement as “a journey”.

“I, like everyone else, still have a lot to learn…. we’re still learning that every day comments cause harm,” he said.

McLachlan argued that the focus should not be on what was happening to the Collingwood president but the bigger issue.

“I believe by the end of today, millions of people will know… that casual language around violence again women has significant knock on in terms of actual violence against women.”

One person unimpressed by McLachlan’s effort was former Basketball Australia CEO and NSW premier Kristina Keneally, who asked for feedback on McLachlan’s efforts.

Here’s one of many that summed up the reaction.

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