The AFL rumour mill is in full swing but at what cost to player welfare?

They say nature abhors a vacuum. Nature’s got nothing on the AFL.

Such is the insatiable desire for AFL titbits, the playing and winning of an exceptional grand final is merely a blip in a year-round drip feeding of football fans by the AFL and its associates.

No more so than at this time of the year, the AFL’s trade period.

In trade period, which officially begins today, the drip feed becomes a tsunami of rumour, speculation, and conjecture — with the odd nugget of fact thrown in.

It makes sense, of course. One team has won the premiership, leaving behind the 17 others and their millions of fans with one thing to cling on to — hope.

That hope is fed by the huge amounts of football media across newspapers, websites, TV, talkback radio, and podcasts.

But the clear leader of the pack at this time of year is the ubiquitous AFL Trade Radio, a streaming service hosted on the league’s website that runs for almost three weeks starting from the Monday after the grand final.

AFL Trade Radio is a joint venture run by the league and Sports Entertainment Network (formerly Crocmedia), a sports broadcasting and production company that also owns SEN radio stations in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, racing stations and produces many podcasts.

The company’s chief executive and managing director, Craig Hutchison, began AFL Trade Radio more than a decade ago and his since successfully built interest in his product.

It has gained hundreds of thousands of listeners, while also ramping up interest in the trade period itself, such that it is now a major period on the AFL calendar.

AFL Trade Radio employs some excellent analysts, including experienced former AFL list managers and recruiters like Stephen Silvagni and Matt Rendell, as well as former players such as Matthew Lloyd, Adam Cooney, Brendon Goddard and the forthright Kane Cornes.

That group is backed by a team of experienced AFL journalists, including Damian Barrett, Sam Edmund, and Mitch Cleary.

If you love people talking about the AFL and you are looking for that dollop of hope about your footy club, it can be incredibly addictive.

Jeremy Cameron winds up for a set shot on goal as he drops the ball.Jeremy Cameron winds up for a set shot on goal as he drops the ball.
The trade period is set to decide where AFL players such as Jeremy Cameron end up next year.(AAP: David Moir)

The problem with Trade Radio is the same faced by any continuous news service: how do you fill all that time?

AFL Trade Radio had already been broadcasting for seven days before the trade period began today, with just a few free agency transfers to report on.

Amidst the analysis of team lists (and interminable commercials) are often revealing interviews with players on the move.

Then there is the strange dance with player managers and club list managers, who have specific agendas to talk up or down a player’s value, as they fly kites and put up their straw men.

‘Rumour and innuendo’

But where AFL Trade Radio becomes particularly problematic is the broadcasting of rumour and unattributed stories.

Take the case of star Collingwood midfielder Adam Treloar.

Last week, unattributed stories began to emerge in the football media suggesting Collingwood no longer wanted Treloar — one of the Magpies’ best players — because his wife, Kim Ravaillion, was going to move to Queensland to play for the Firebirds in Super Netball, taking with her the couple’s daughter.

Treloar and Collingwood have not spoken on the record about the speculation that the club was worried about him splitting his time between Melbourne and Brisbane or that they wanted to unload his sizeable salary.

On Monday, SEN radio journalist Sam Edmund reported on AFL Trade Radio as “absolute fact” that Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley had phoned Treloar and told him that “that the senior core of the group didn’t want him around anymore”.

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Buckley responded via a Twitter post, writing: “‘Absolute fact’ … news to me Sam. The constant rumour and innuendo is disrespectful to Adam, the club and supporters.”

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Edmund said he had multiple sources, stating: “I am 100 per cent that this conversation took place.”

A lack of attribution generally reduces a story’s credibility, but doesn’t discount the possibility of its accuracy.

So, who to believe? The short answer is that we simply do not know.

For more than a week, Treloar’s life, relationships and future have been dissected by all and sundry through relentless talkback radio calls and broadcasters with endless hours to fill.

It is not unfair to say that Treloar, who has previously gone public about his anxiety disorder, has had his mental health and wellbeing placed at risk.

Separating truth from fiction

The problem for the football media during trade period is one of its own making.

When rumour, speculation and unattributed stories become a regular part of the diet, it is impossible to separate truth from fiction.

ABC Sport reporter and retired AFL footballer, Tony Armstrong, said trade period was hated by most players.

“Players hear stories about themselves that they have no idea about,” he said.

Mason Cox clenches both fists and yells in celebrationMason Cox clenches both fists and yells in celebration
Mason Cox has been vocal about his uneasiness with the AFL’s rumour mill.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

As Treloar’s Collingwood teammate Mason Cox tweeted this week: “This time of year is when media loses all respect from me. Rumours become facts and the constant need to be first outweighs validity entirely too often.”

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Cornes tried to address that criticism on Tuesday by saying: “The reason rumour becomes fact is because of the lack of information [from clubs].”

But rumours are not fact.

Cornes’s point seems to be that if something is repeated often enough it becomes the accepted truth.

Within all this is a quandary for the AFL. It devised a system in which clubs, managers and players are all trying to get the best for themselves or their clients in a highly competitive market. That is why they all keep their cards so close to their chests.

And yet, the AFL is also exploiting that system through the marketing and publication of a product that feeds off trade intrigue and speculation — not to mention numerous stories on its website.

This week, the AFL’s platform simultaneously published a story that was “absolute fact”, as well as another shooting it down.

But the league is also ultimately the body responsible for player health and welfare.

Does its position as a publisher and broadcaster contradict its duty of care to players?