Even amid the arcane rules of the AFL’s trade season – and Eddie McGuire’s suspicions that the Sydney Swans employ sorcery when building their player list – the AFL Commission’s latest ruling against the Swans is such a Catch 22 it would leave Joseph Heller in awe.
At stake is $1.4 million in Cost Of Living Allowance (CoLA), a 9.8% top up players get for living in Sin City. GWS players get it too.
Eddie McGuire, president of the AFL’s richest club, Collingwood, has been a vocal, grandstanding critic of CoLA and it’s been phased out at the end of 2016. It’s being replaced by replaced by a new rent subsidy to lower-paid players.
But you heard right. Eddy Everywhere, whose club, in 2013, generated $11 million in revenue more than its nearest rival, Hawthorn, ($32 million more than Sydney) and spent $900,000 more than Swans on football, is the same bloke who complains about “Bondi billionaires”.
McGuire must have been delighted when, last week, the AFL wrote to the Swans saying that if they bought any players during the current two-week trade season, they’d lose all of the CoLA – $800,000 next year, $600,000 in 2016 – already written into player contracts.
Ouch. Even when Collingwood breached the salary cap in 1998, the fine was only $47,500.
And here’s the catch: the Swans can’t take on a free agent player without paying the CoLA. It’s an AFL-mandated rule and the AFL picks up the tab. But the AFL has threatened that if the Swans do recruit someone, they’ll lose all of the $1.4 million in existing CoLA commitments over the next two years.
Genius. It’s the perfect wedge on Swans CEO Andrew Ireland and essentially stops the club recruiting anyone over the next two years unless they want to take a massive hit to the budget.
In a statement, the AFL says “the Commission stated that the key principle was that the Sydney Swans should use the COLA transition amount to honour existing contracts and not to attract players from other clubs or use that transitional amount to compete with other clubs for the services of players not on their list”.
But the AFL didn’t impose the same rule on GWS, which makes it look like AFL officials are deliberately picking on the Swans.
With All-Australian defender Nick Malceski poached by the Gold Coast Suns for a reported $500,000, and senior players Lewis Roberts-Thomson and Ryan O’Keefe retiring, the Swans obviously have money in the salary cap kitty, but the AFL is basically saying they can’t do anything about it for the next two years.
Every other team is free to trade without risk of financial penalty, but Sydney has to cop this for two years. It seems like everyone’s still smarting over the Swans nabbing Buddy Franklin last year. Meanwhile Hawthorn’s picking up Melbourne’s James Frawley on a $3 million deal and no-one seems too fussed.
As Ireland points out, the only reason the club’s been able to recruit is by creating salary cap room via departing players.
“As you’d expect, the Club is very disappointed and we don’t understand why the AFL has made this rule specifically for us considering we’ve complied with their rules,” Ireland said. “It doesn’t make any sense that we’re being punished for something that we’ve been told to do.
“It also doesn’t seem fair that we can lose players yet we’re unable to replace them.”
You’d think Ireland would have a fair restraint of trade (pun intended) claim against the AFL for singling out the club.
If that happened to Eddie and the Pies, you’d be hearing the screams in Sydney.
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