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Port slams media, AFL over Powell-Pepper

Football

Port Adelaide is on a crash-course with the AFL and local media over the Sam Powell-Pepper controversy, with the football club “reserving its right” to sue the Seven network over its reporting, and Power president David Koch reportedly accusing the league of using the incident to “try to rebuild its reputation with women because of the misdemeanours of its own former executives”.

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The 20-year-old midfielder was yesterday handed a three-match suspension – including two games already served – which will see him sit out Saturday’s trip to play North Melbourne.

An AFL integrity unit investigation into Powell-Pepper’s behaviour on a night out on April 8 after the Power’s win over the Lions determined the player had “engaged in inappropriate behaviour that is unbecoming for an AFL player by being intoxicated in a public place and by making inappropriate contact with a female”.

The AFL noted it had made “no other findings in this matter” – a point highlighted by the Power in a subsequent statement which said it was “the AFL’s finding that there was no evidence or suggestion of sexual or indecent assault, as has been speculated by some media outlets throughout the investigation”.

Port CEO Keith Thomas addressed the media this afternoon, refusing to rule out legal action against Channel 7 Adelaide, which broke the story and, he said, framed it in such a way that subsequent reporting throughout the 16-day investigation “was about sexual assault”.

“This investigation for us has become an issue of fairness and natural justice,” Thomas said.

The CEO said Port believes “in hindsight, having viewed the turn of events” on CCTV, that the reporting “way overplayed the incident” and “the investigation was immediately on the backfoot”.

He said the club would “discuss [the matter] privately with Channel 7”, and would not rule out legal action, saying: “We’d reserve all of our rights in this case.”

“We believe this has been way overplayed… Channel 7 Adelaide set the tone for the investigation and we’ll be discussing that with them,” he said.

“That’s created an environment where it’s very difficult to achieve fairness.”

Thomas said the club viewed “seven hours of video from every angle” which “shows clearly and distinctly that that [inappropriate] touching was a long, long way away from sexual assault”.

The CEO locked horns with a Channel 7 reporter at a media conference today, refusing to detail what he saw on the CCTV footage of events at Mr Kim’s nightclub in the CBD.

However, he insisted there was “a huge discrepancy in regards to what was being reported and what we can actually see”.

The club, he said, was keen to address the contention of sexual assault, as “a charge like that can leave a stain on someone’s reputation and life forever”.

He said he was “thankful” the female complainant – who reportedly approached Channel 7 before contacting the club – remained anonymous, but added “at no stage has Sam been afforded that opportunity”.

“We’re dealing with an incident that occured at 3am on the dancefloor of a nightclub – it’s very difficult to achieve fairness,” Thomas said.

“We’ve accepted the [AFL] finding… we accept inappropriate touching is a matter of personal opinion and it’s subjective.”

He said while Powell-Pepper could not remember much of what transpired on the night, “I lean on the fact the issue was not reported to the police”.

However, he refused to release the video upon which Port based their insistence, saying: “It’s not our video to show you – it’s the nightclub’s video.”

He suggested Channel 7 “will be given that opportunity in private” to understand what the vision contains.

Ironically, Power president David Koch’s flagship morning show Sunrise airs on 7, with the Port president one of the network’s most bankable stars.

But Koch today unleashed a broadside on the AFL, via a statement read by a reporter on Triple M radio in Melbourne in which he reportedly said: “The whole respect and responsibility policy leaves the clubs in the dark.”

“They [the AFL] take complete control… I issued them a grievance notice before they would start talking sense,” Koch reportedly said.

“My biggest issue was they are railroading a kid and trying to rebuild their reputation with women because of the misdemeanours of their own former executives.”

Last year high-profile football operations boss Simon Lethlean and general manager of commercial Richard Simkiss quit and apologised for having “inappropriate” relationships with members of staff.

Koch said that in Powell-Pepper’s case, “a woman anonymously made these claims [and] did not press charges with police – which we were happy for her to do”.

“We have vision of the entire night and the head of the integrity unit refused to see it,” he alleged, adding that he was putting the matter on the agenda for the next club presidents’ meeting.

However, Koch’s reported statement did not square with Thomas’s account, with the CEO telling media the AFL integrity unit “did view the vision” and “have a very clear understanding of what that looks like”.

Koch’s comments received immediate endorsement from one of his fellow presidents – Collingwood’s Eddie McGuire, who was hosting the Triple M segment on which the statement was aired.

“The clubs are getting sick of being treated like franchises,” McGuire said.

The Collingwood president said the AFL commission “was brought in to act on behalf of the clubs” but took the attitude that the clubs were an “unnecessary impediment to the AFL hierarchy”.

He said the standoff between the clubs and the league highlighted by Koch’s comments was “building and building and building, and has been building for a long time”.

Powell-Pepper was available to take the field for yesterday’s SANFL Grand Final re-match, which the Magpies lost to Sturt.

InDaily has sought comment from Channel 7.

The Power’s off-field controversy comes as it faces a fresh test on the field, with in-form defender Hamish Hartlett set for an “extended break from football” after suffering “suspected damage” to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee at training.

Hartlett stands his ground to take a mark on Saturday night. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

General Manager of Football Chris Davies told the Power’s website Hartlett – lauded for putting his body on the line in the club’s loss to Geelong last weekend – was injured during a routine drill at training this morning.

“This is obviously a terrible blow for Hamish and the football club,” Davies said.

“Hamish had started the season well and we saw last weekend what a courageous and skilful player he is.

“It was an innocuous incident that caused the injury. He went to change direction and his leg gave way beneath him.

“We fear Hamish won’t be back on the field for some time but no doubt he’ll continue to contribute as a leader of our football club.”

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