21-23 Aug 2024
ICC, Sydney

Person of Interest: Tony Keanne

Head of Integrity and Security for the AFL (Australian Football League).

The Beginning of the AFL Security Function

In 2014, following a 14-year career with the Victorian Police, Tony Keanne decided to leave the force and take a role as an investigator in the AFL’s (Australian Football League) integrity department. At the time, he believed the move to be one of the most significant challenges of his life. However, barely a year into his new role, Tony quickly realised that the AFL had significant security obligations which, to that point, had been primarily outsourced to venues and groups with whom the AFL partnered. From a risk perspective, this was not an ideal position for what is unarguably one of the country’s leading sporting leagues.

As Tony explains, “From a security point of view, as an organisation, we were heavily reliant on police and our venue partners to ensure the security of our events. At the time, it seemed to me that we were too reliant. We never really had a complete picture across everything that was happening across a weekend or season. We would come into a venue like the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) on a Friday night for example, and we would expect that the stadium hosting the event would have taken responsibility for engaging security and police, and working with those groups to develop the security overlay for that event. Our role was more one of event organisation, promotion, supervision, management and so on. We didn’t really contribute much to the security of the event.”

After raising the issue with key people in the organisation, it was quickly decided that this was an area that needed reform.

“This led to the formation of the first security function for the AFL, in about 2016.” Explains Tony. “My role at the time within the integrity department had strong synergy with the new security role. Given that I was the lead on the security project, it seemed natural to merge the two functions into the one position, so I became the Head of Integrity and Security for the AFL.

Being tasked with the responsibility of raising and developing a security function within the AFL might, in and of itself, seem like a monumental task. However, the events of 2020 have taken that challenge to a whole new level. The responsibility for managing the safety and security of 2,500 AFL players, officials, and their family members across up to 15 separate hubs and hotel setups to deliver a COVID free football season is nothing short of a monumental task for anyone.

A COVID-Free Football Season

“It has been a huge challenge,” explains Tony “We have had to manage a multitude of private security teams, from multiple security firms across multiple states. Add to this the fact that we had varying COVID restrictions and government requirements in each jurisdiction, which has meant that what was expected of us from a security perspective in WA, wasn’t necessarily the same in South Australia, or New South Wales, or Queensland, and you can imagine that it has been quite the challenge.”

Added to this challenge was an unprecedented level of media scrutiny, explains Tony. “Not only did we have to contend with daily reporting on what’s happening in our quarantine hubs, but we also had to manage the reporting around the alleged behaviour of people within those hubs. We had environments which were evolving and changing daily and so we needed to develop good working relationships with the State Health Officers who became a fantastic resource.”

As most of the country now knows, managing quarantine hotels can be problematic at the best of times. Just ask anyone who lives in Victoria. For Tony, ensuring the security inside the AFL quarantine hubs, particularly the 14-day quarantine hubs, was something of an unprecedented logistical challenge.

“We had to get all guards tested on a weekly basis. The big risk was that if one of our guards turned up at a hub with COVID and contaminated the hub, it could have potentially shut down the entire season. As such, we had to be on our game with regard to making sure that all the various security firms we were working with understood and adhered to our requirements. At times it felt very much like we were attempting to build the rocket on the launchpad, but we were lucky to have the support of great people who could give us the right advice.”

According to Tony, the journey began in Western Australia. “I went to WA earlier this year thinking I’d be there for four weeks. At that stage, Queensland wasn’t the significant bubble that it ended up becoming. As it happened, I went away for four weeks and didn’t come home for four months.

“Trying to manage things in Queensland when you’re locked in a hotel in WA is also quite challenging. The ability to lean into my network up in Queensland and New South and South Australia became really important. I had to use them to help assist in building the security overlay around the hubs in those states because they were critical to ensuring that the season continued. We couldn’t risk so much as a single contaminated case getting into our environment.

The key to successfully achieving this was establishing a security coordinator in Queensland, given the fact that I was stuck in WA. That particular person had vision over what was happening and was able to go and visit each of these hubs in Queensland for me. This way, I had a physical presence by way of that person who was on the ground and touching base with each of the hubs regularly.

The second key point was having a security lead inside each of the hubs. We didn’t want a situation where our local security firm was expected to simply turn up to one of our hubs with six or eight guards and have to look after themselves. We made sure we had a dedicated security lead inside each hub which worked really well.

The third key component to our success was working closely with the Queensland police; they were fantastic. They opened their doors to us and enabled us to work very closely with their Counter-Terrorism command. They helped with operations, planning and intelligence, and then the local area command was vital to our ability to deliver all our finals and so many games in Queensland.

Then, of course, we had all the fantastic people at Metricon and the Gabba. They did a huge job, helping to successfully deliver so many games, particularly across the finals. The Gabba held the grand final for the first time. They work closely with myself and Queensland Police to deliver a grand final in a place that we have never had a grand final before. I can’t thank all the people involved enough for helping us deliver a successful season in 2020.

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