The two senior AFL officials who have quit after it emerged they had each had an affair with younger female staff members admit they were in the "wrong" and are "truly sorry" for the pain they have caused.
The AFL has been rocked by revelations football operations boss Simon Lethlean and general manager of commercial Richard Simkiss had conducted "inappropriate" relationships. They resigned from their senior roles on Thursday night, having had their positions discussed at an emergency AFL Commission meeting.
Fairfax Media understands Lethlean's brief relationship was with former AFL Auskick staffer Maddi Blomberg. She left that role in September last year. The Sydney-based Blomberg is away with her long-time partner, rugby union star Kurtley Beale.
Ali Gronow, the AFL legal staffer who has had a relationship with Simkiss, is currently on leave and it's unclear if she will return to the AFL.
Lethlean said the relationship shouldn't have happened. "My resignation follows a wrong decision I made to have an inappropriate relationship with a female employee of the AFL. It is an action for which I am truly sorry for the hurt I have caused," Lethlean said on Friday.
"The relationship should never have happened. As a husband and a leader of this organisation it is up to me to set the example. What I did was wrong."
Simkiss also apologised, admitting "our industry is on a journey of change, and I can't let my actions halt or damage that journey".
"I have apologised to Gillon and to my colleagues for a serious lapse of judgement that has hurt many people, including my family. My actions did not live up to the values of the AFL and is something I am truly sorry for," he said.
AFL chief Gillion McLachlan denied the AFL had a culture problem and said he had reached out to the two women involved.
Lethlean said he had "failed my wife, my family, my friends, my organisation and football by making the decision I have".
"I have hurt the people who are most important in my life and who I love. They have done nothing to deserve this. I am deeply sorry for all the hurt and embarrassment I have caused. My priority now is to do everything I can to repair the damage and hurt I have caused my wife and my family and I cannot do this while working in this public role. Regaining the trust and love of my wife and my family will be my total focus," he said.
The scandal comes a week after Ali Fahour, who had been the AFL's diversity manager, quit after he was banned for life from playing football for a coward's punch on an opponent in the Northern Football League.
The Lethlean and Simkiss controversy also comes as the AFL has still yet to finalise an upgraded respect and responsibility policy, having engaged consultancy company Rapid Context to provide a report. The league also has Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, involved in the process.
Lethlean had been a star on the rise and had risen through the ranks with good friend McLachlan. Simkiss was also highly regarded but their positions became untenable when revelations emerged of their affairs.
"I failed my wife, my family, my friends, my organisation and football by making the decision I have. I have hurt the people who are most important in my life and who I love."
McLachlan said the two men had been conducting "inappropriate" relationships "with younger women in the industry".
"The AFL that I want to lead is a professional organisation based on integrity, respect, care for each other and responsibility," McLachlan said.
"We are committed to a process of change and I am confident that change is being seen across the industry."
McLachlan said the decision for the two men to stand down was made "following issues that have come full to light over the past few days".
"They were quite separate matters but, of course, distressing and of concern to a number of people," he said.
"Simon and Richard have been honest and forthright to me and to their credit, own their mistakes and do not want the work of the AFL to be impacted by their actions."
Asked to elaborate on the relationships, he replied: "I need to be careful – there are number of parties, there are families."
He said there were "no concerns from the other parties".
AFL legal counsel and game development chief Andrew Dillon will be acting general manager of football while Darren Birch will be acting commercial manager. The AFL will look outside of league headquarters to replace Lethlean.
"I expect that executives are role models and set a standard of behaviour for the rest of the organisation," McLachlan said.
"They are judged, as they should be, to a higher standard.
"Many would ask why, but it was imperative for the way I lead and for our organisation to continue to change. I want a diverse and inclusive culture where employees are treated respectfully, fairly and represented at all levels. It was what we have been working so hard to achieve.
"The journey that we are on to a more equal and respectful workplace must be more than just two words. It must be backed up with action and with change. We have come along way."
Lethlean had been a star on the rise emerged through the ranks with McLachlan. He had only recently been elevated into the top football operations role after Mark Evans left to join the Gold Coast Suns.
"I had no visibility of these actions when Simon was promoted," McLachlan said.