MELBOURNE, March 3 (Reuters) - Australian Football League chief executive Andrew Demetriou, the head of the country’s dominant football code Australian Rules, has announced his resignation as the sport continues to grapple with a major anti-doping investigation.
One of Australia’s most powerful sports administrators, Demetriou, 52, will serve out an 11th season in charge, having expanded the AFL from 16 to 18 teams and strengthened the game’s standing as the country’s richest and most well-attended competition.
A former top-flight player and boss of the professional players’ association, Demetriou endured a torrid season last year as the national anti-doping agency launched a probe into the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs at the Melbourne-based Essendon Bombers club.
Demetriou oversaw Essendon’s expulsion from last year’s AFL playoffs after the club was charged with systematically administering banned supplements to players, a scandal that rocked the AFL community and continues to overshadow the game.
News Ltd media named 14 current and former Essendon players engulfed in the probe over the weekend, and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority may yet hand down punishments.
Demetriou denied the scandal had accelerated his decision.
“No ... none whatsoever,” Demetriou told reporters in Melbourne on Monday. “This was a long time in the making and I think it’s part of good governance.”
Demetriou was also forced into damage control last year over the handling of a “tanking” scandal involving the Melbourne Demons.
The Demons were accused of deliberately underperforming in matches during the 2009 season in a ploy to finish at the bottom of the competition table and earn draft picks given to struggling teams.
Demetriou denied the existence of “tanking” in the AFL, but after a protracted investigation launched in 2012, the league fined the club A$500,000 ($447,400) last year and sanctioned their former head coach and a senior official.
Demetriou’s crowning moment was securing an Australian record A$1.253 billion broadcasting rights deal for 2012-16, a financial coup that has allowed the league to bank-roll its expansion plans in the eastern states of New South Wales and Queensland, where rival code rugby league remains supreme.
Demetriou was tight-lipped about his future plans but has been linked with a senior role at Tennis Australia, which organises the Australian Open, the year’s first grand slam event. ($1 = 1.1175 Australian dollars) (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)