Kennett roasted over Hawthorn’s $25m problem

Hawthorn presidential candidate Andy Gowers has claimed outgoing boss Jeff Kennett will leave the club with a funding “black hole” for its new world-class training center at its Dingley base because of his comments criticizing the state government.

Gowers said Kennett’s “social media activity” had caused the Victorian state government to withhold a $15 million funding commitment and had deterred wealthy benefactors from contributing a further $10 million to the club’s funding for its Dingley home, leaving Hawthorn with a shortfall of $25 million.

Speaking during an online rally to promote his presidential campaign, Gowers said Kennett had damaged the club’s relationship with the Victorian state government, and in the process, had cost the club funding.

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“Let’s start with the facts, the concept of Dingley was committed to when I was still on the board, so five years ago in 2017. We fast-forward to now and there was a recent announcement of Dingley not being ready until 2025, so that is a further delay,” he said.

“We are unfortunately in an environment where inflation is running rampant, construction costs are rising rapidly, labor is hard to get to deliver projects, and we have a Kennett black hole in our Dingley plans in terms of the funding.

“So why is that the case? Every single person listening today would understand that late-night tweets from our outgoing president Jeff Kennett criticizing government officials do not help our cause when we look to the state government for funding.

Gowers also said Hawthorn board member and the board’s nominated presidential applicant Peter Nankivell – who has been Kennett’s vice president for five years – would continue to be Kennett’s proxy if elected as president.

“I personally know of several prominent Hawthorn people who simply won’t be giving us money for Dingley until the outgoing president and his proxies are out of the club,” he said.

“It stands to reason, then, that Jeff Kennett’s hand-picked successor and my opponent, Peter Nankivell, and let’s remember Peter has been Jeff Kennett’s vice president for the past five years, is linked to this issue we are now facing as a club .We should receive funding based on our funding, not on our late-night social media activity.”

Speaking to The Age, Gowers revealed that the club had announced that it had been granted $15 million in state government funding, however this money was still listed as in “contingency” and had not been released.

“In addition, I am advised from a number of club benefactors that the Time to Fly campaign is underfunded by in excess of $10 million,” he said.

During the online rally, Gowers addressed the criticism of Hawthorn’s handling of its cultural safety review – which was handed on to the AFL without ex-coach Alastair Clarkson or former Hawks staffers Chris Fagan and Jason Burt being interviewed.

He added that during his previous stint as football director on the board, he did not know of the issues raised in the report.

“The release of the Egan report into our relationship with our First Nations players and staff was, and is, deeply painful and damaging, for everyone involved,” Gowers said.

“The contents of that report are shocking, and the issues raised are incredibly complex. At the same time, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the fact that those accused of the allegations have not had the opportunity to speak.

“So I support the AFL’s independent inquiry so that there can be healing for all involved. We can’t be content with being ‘culturally safe’, Hawthorn should be the benchmark, not the bare minimum.

“It’s a very low bar to aim to be culturally safe. Surely, that’s the minimum. We want to be leaders, not doing the minimum.”

Gowers also criticized the handling of Clarkson’s removal from the club, saying the timing might have been right for Clarkson to move on, but it was badly handled and lacked respect.

“Last year we all watched in shock as our modern-day champion coach, Alastair Clarkson, was sent packing from our club,” he said.

“We saw Clarko being treated like a stranger, rather than the successful coach, who guided us out of an era in the footy doldrums, and onto four flags, the most of any coach in our history.

“We tuned in with despair seeing Clarko sitting on one side of a hastily convened, very awkward media conference, and listened to Jeff begin with the words, ‘The board has decided not to renew Alastair’s contract’ and it stirred up a hornets’ nest of emotions.”

After all that had transpired, Gowers committed to spending 100 per cent of the soft cap on football spending.

“We watched on in disbelief, and the financial settlement [to Clarkson] has meant that we were unable to pay the full soft-cap in the football department this year, which hinders our football program,” he said.

Kennett told club members the preferred candidate will be decided on by June 30, suggesting he will step down from the job by the end of next AFL season.

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