AFL Victoria is under pressure to remove ambiguity in its landmark cyber safety policy after a heavily-debated tribunal hearing in Warrnambool last night.
An independent tribunal suspended Deakin University president and player Luke Jackson for two matches after finding him guilty of breaching the policy.
The tribunal, chaired by Terry O’Keefe and including Paul Jones and David Gladman as panel members, also handed the Sharks a $1000 fine, suspended for 12 months.
Russells Creek footballer Cam Williams also copped a two-match ban — the minimum sanction the policy allows for a guilty verdict — at the same hearing.
The drama stemmed back to April 12, in the hours after Merrivale thrashed Russells Creek by 245 points in a Warrnambool and District league match at Mack Oval.
Jackson, who pleaded not guilty, was on a weekend away and under the influence of alcohol when he checked the scores and discovered the lopsided result.
He posted a derogatory comment about Russells Creek on his Facebook page, intending it would be read by his social network friends only.
But one of those friends — a Russells Creek footballer — shared the comment on the Kangaroos’ Facebook page, which sparked a reaction from club members.
Among those was Williams, who responded with his own derogatory words on the Kangaroos’ page and also sent Jackson a direct insulting message.
WDFNL officials asked investigations officer Roy Baker to look into the matter. Baker then recommended Jackson and Williams face unbecoming conduct charges.
Jackson told the hearing he “wasn’t thinking clearly” when he posted the comments online, but conceded that was no excuse for his actions.
He argued that his comments were a reference to a line in the movie Anchorman, were not directed at anyone in particular and were written in jest.
That Jackson did not target any specific Russells Creek member was the cornerstone of the Sharks’ argument throughout the hearing.
The policy states that cyber bullying “includes but is not limited to … harassing, teasing, intimidating, racially vilifying or threatening another person …”
“We say he hasn’t targeted anyone with that comment and therefore the charge doesn’t stand and he has no case to answer,” advocate Wayne Promnitz said.
Jackson was also defiant on the issue, later saying: “I could’ve broken 20 charges in the book if you look deep enough but I haven’t been charged with those offences.”
Jackson called on AFL Victoria officials to look closely at the wording of the policy, which does not feature in the AFL Victoria Country handbook.
He was also critical of the WDFNL for its lack of education on the subject: “sending out an email with the policy (attached) is hardly an education”.
Williams, by contrast, pleaded guilty to his charge. He said his comments were provoked by what Jackson had written, but expressed remorse nonetheless.
Williams said he was also influenced by alcohol, which caused “angriness” and sparked his response.
The tribunal needed little time to determine Williams’ punishment but deliberated for close to 20 minutes before finding Jackson guilty.