Hawks ‘threw women to the wolves’: board challenger

Andrew Gowers.Credit:Getty Images

Hawthorn presidential candidate Andrew Gowers says the club’s board had “thrown the women to the wolves” in deciding to make Katie Hudson and Anne-Marie Pellizzer stand at the election while extending football director Richie Vandenberg’s tenure by one year.

All three board members were elected for three-year terms in 2019, but under league rules clubs are allowed to extend the tenure of a board member in certain circumstances to ensure more than 40 per cent of the board was not up for election at one time.

Gowers’ comment came as he hit back at claims made by Jeff Kennett in an opinion piece for News Corp that those running against the board-endorsed candidates wanted to take Hawthorn “back to being a boys’ club”.

“I not only refute that claim but would draw our members’ attention to the fact that this year three board members were up for election, Richie Vandenberg, Katie Hudson and Anne-Marie Pellizzer. They had to extend one of those director’s term by one year under an AFL rule and they chose Richie Vandenberg, the only male,” Gowers said.

“The president Jeff Kennett and the vice president Peter Nankivell and the board decided to roll over the one man and in doing that threw the women to the wolves.”

As the war of words continued to escalate, Gowers said he wanted members to know he was voting for Maria Lui, the chair of the Hawks Foundation, who he said had emerged as a candidate via a robust nominations committee process led by board member Ian Silk, as well as backing James Merlino and Ed Sill for the three vacant positions.

“Diversity is not just a male and female thing. Diversity is about differences of opinions, ideas, cultural backgrounds, religious views, which creates a melting pot of contributions which allows you to safely have a broad discussion about a range of topics,” Gowers, a Hawthorn premiership player, said.

Lui told The Age it was up to the members to decide who had the best skill set to serve on the board and she hoped candidates were elected on that basis, however she was endorsing Peter Nankivell.

“He has got a good track record and has been involved in many important club projects … he deserves the opportunity to see this through as the club is at a very important juncture and needs stability,” Lui said.

Former Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett.Credit:AAP

Gowers also addressed Kennett’s comments that highlighted the fact Gowers was football director when “alleged inappropriate actions found to have been taken against some of our Indigenous players”.

“I was football director for a period of time that is covered by the Egan report. I was not aware of those allegations that were raised in the Egan report and further I am not going to jeopardise the process for any of the individuals and families who are involved in that report by making any further comment about that process,” Gowers said.

“I have already endorsed the recommendation for the club to employ a full-time general manager of inclusion and diversity to report to the CEOs.

“I look forward, if elected as president, to leading the Hawthorn Football Club as an industry example of how to have a stellar relationship with our Indigenous players, staff, members and fans.”

Meanwhile, Hawthorn responded to fears raised by former Victorian deputy premier Merlino that the sale of cheap memberships with voting rights could be used to sway voting in the club’s increasingly acrimonious election.

In a letter sent on Monday to the Hawks’ legal counsel Nick Holland, the board and other candidates, Merlino asked the club to address his concerns over the $50 membership, which provides no access to games but provides voting rights. He urged that steps be taken to ensure the December election was conducted in “the spirit of fairness”.

James Merlino raised concerns about cheap memberships being bought ahead of the election.Credit:The Age

Merlino askedfor assurance that “the club is taking all steps to ensure that any new memberships that are purchased are done so legitimately by individuals seeking to become members of the club, and not on behalf of (or for the benefit of) any candidate in the election”, and said that “certain people may endeavour to buy batches of the these cheap memberships in order to sway the voting of the upcoming election.”

Merlino’s letter underlines the level of mistrust that has arisen among some candidates about the club’s election process.

A Hawks spokesperson said the club had been regularly monitoring sales and there had been no spike. “Relating to the ‘Hawks at Heart’ membership, there has been a total of 13 new members [added in that category] since the middle of October,” the spokesperson said.

Any Hawthorn membership bought before Friday by a person over the age of 18 gives them the right to vote in the AGM, which is scheduled for December 13.

Merlino wrote that he was alerting the club because he wanted to ensure the good governance of the club is “upheld for the sake of all candidates and the integrity of the voting process”.

The revelation of the letter comes as the Hawks trumpeted a strong financial result with a $35.1 million net operating surplus, largely built on the back of the sale of their gaming and hospitality venues for $32 million.

The club is yet to identify a new non-football business initiative as earmarked in their strategic plan for 2018-2022, but they said in their statement they would look at future investment opportunities via a club-based future fund.

The club said a significant portion of gaming sale proceeds would also be used to support the construction of the Kennedy Community Centre, with the Hawthorn Foundation receiving just $973,130 in donations towards the new facility.

All candidates have backed the football strategy being led by senior coach Sam Mitchell, who took over as senior coach from four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson in 2022.

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