May 12, 2022

The Boys Club and an Empire of Pain

Victorian football journalist and author Michael Warner did not accuse the AFL of actual corruption – in fact, he struggled to rule it out. But Warner, in his book boys club, broke ranks with the league’s sphere of influence. He accused it of lacking integrity and transparency and being a law in itself.

Michael Warner.

“I’m not accusing the AFL of the same blatant corruption that we saw at FIFA or the IOC, where there was obvious corruption among the leadership, undeclared payments, that sort of thing; I’m not saying that,” Warner said from the West Stage of the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

“But that same sense of arrogance and entitlement certainly prevails at AFL House.”

Warner said he believes the problems started under Andrew Demetriou, who led the AFL for more than a decade before South Australia’s Gillon McLachlan replaced him in 2014. Demetriou was a formidable businessman and supercharged the AFL economy, but that came at a cost, according to Warner.

“It was while he was an executive that they also, in my view, had problems controlling their own integrity in investigations. [which led to] the continuing injustices, the mistreatment of people, the lack of transparency and accountability,” he said.

He argued that the AFL, a tax-exempt charity that runs the country’s wealthiest sport, was a law unto itself and when there was a problem it put commercial interests first, working to backwards from a problem to create a position that was best for the game.

Maybe they could do it just because it was footy, Warner suggested. A scandal that ran from Monday to Wednesday was overtaken by Saturday’s game.

“If it wasn’t Australian rules football, would they turn a blind eye to the kind of conduct I write about in the book? I don’t think they would,” Warner said. “Maybe because it’s sport, they don’t take it seriously.”

While progress has been made thanks to the “antediluvian sexism” he described, Warner accused the AFL of holding back the advancement of women in the AFLW league. He said the length of the season and its timing – in the summer, even though football is a winter sport – effectively prevented female players from demanding equal pay.

The moment the AFL gives women “an all-professional season” is “the moment they open the floodgates for pay equity”, Warner said. “They don’t want to do that. They certainly don’t want to have this conversation right now and have to open their purse strings.

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The story of the rise of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin, which ravaged communities across the United States, turning them into scenes from a “zombie movie”, is much more sinister. Author Patrick Radden Keefe, writer for the new yorker who investigated Mexican drug cartels, said the prevalence of the drug coincided with the commercialization and commercialization of pharmaceuticals on a scale never seen before.

Patrick Radden Keefe. Photo: Philip Montgomery

Speaking from New York during a livestreamed Writers’ Week session, he said there was a Mad Men when advertisers began marketing pills, including OxyContin, which was sold by the Sackler family through the Purdue Company. The highly addictive drug was marketed in 1999 under the slogan “The One to Start With and the One to Stay With”.

Keefe said he was surprised to find a direct link in Australia to OxyContin, the sustained-release opium-based painkiller, with the drug’s raw materials sourced from commercial poppy fields in Tasmania.

“It was amazing to learn that in fact Tasmania was really the breadbasket of the opioid movement and the opioid crisis. You had subsidiaries like Johnson & Johnson, which had huge production there. Their only supply in poppies and raw materials for medicines came from Tasmania.

He said that as the drug crisis worsened, farmers in Tasmania who grew grain and other crops were wooed by Purdue with incentives to switch to opium.

“Suddenly there was this huge, insatiable demand for opioids, so all these incentives were created — we’ll give you a free car if you can plant a few more acres of poppies,” Keefe said. “It was pretty remarkable to see that this very remote place was where the raw material for this huge opioid craze came from.”

He said doctors who had been reluctant to prescribe morphine for pain were being falsely reassured that OxyContin was an innovative drug with no side effects.

“It was a huge success, in part because Purdue handed out month-long scripts and lobbied to persuade family physicians that they should be prescribing these drugs much more than they were doing,” he said. he declares. “You didn’t have to worry about addiction, they were told, it was kind of an old wives’ tale.”

In the ensuing chaos, lives were lost and communities and families destroyed. The Sackler name has been removed from US buildings and institutions, class action lawsuits are underway, and among users OxyContin has emerged as a gateway to heroin, and now fentanyl.

“The opioid crisis today is not really an OxyContin crisis or even a prescription drug crisis overall,” Keefe said. “Today what kills most people is fentanyl, which is highly lethal but chemically linked. Last year was the worst year in the United States and 100,000 people died from overdoses.

Michael Warner and Patrick Radden Keefe both appeared at Adelaide Writers Week yesterday, which continues in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden until Thursday.

InReview will report on Writers Week daily. Click here to read Saturday sessions coverage featuring Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd, and The Quiet City author Murong Xuecun.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.