Anthony John “Tony” Peek
LONG-SERVING AFL senior executive Tony Peek has passed away after losing his battle with cancer.
He was 68.
Peek joined the League as media manager in 1989 when it was still the Victorian Football League. With a staff of about 40, the League then operated out of a non-descript office building in Jolimont, around the corner from the MCG.
When Peek stepped down from the League before his death, he was the assistant to chief executive Gillon McLachlan, as he had been to Andrew Demetriou before then, and was one of around 400 staff based around Australia."It is a devastating day for the wider AFL, and Tony's loss will be taken very hard by so many senior figures from our clubs and the wider industry, as well as within our own building," Mr McLachlan said.
"From his initial work as the senior communications advisor to Ross Oakley when he began at the then-VFL in 1989, he has been a strong guiding force for the leadership of the game with his values and determination to ensure the right thing was done around the AFL's role as a social leader within the community."
Peek started as a tennis reporter for the Sun News-Pictorial (now the Herald-Sun) before forming a media consultancy. He then went to Tennis Australia and was the media manager for the Australian Open when it moved from Kooyong to Flinders Park (now known as Melbourne Park) in 1988.
He replaced Mike Sheahan as media manager of the VFL midway through the following year and immediately introduced more media access, including mandatory post-match media interviews by players and coaches.
Also under Peek’s watch, players and coaches from both clubs would conduct a joint Friday morning media conference at the League offices ahead of that weekend's match of the round.
The national draft also moved from a closed-door meeting to a nationally televised TV extravaganza in his first few years with the League.
In 1993 he added strategy to his portfolio. Peek was passionate about the game's expansion into the northern markets and he became a key ally, initially for the Sydney Swans and the Brisbane Bears.
Despite the name change by then to the Australian Football League, it was still Victorian-centric in outlook. But Peek was someone the non-Victorian clubs believed was a kindred spirit with a sympathetic ear, who made sure their views were known to the AFL executive and commission.
But his greatest achievement at the AFL came in 1995.
In the aftermath of the racial abuse incident involving Essendon's Michael Long and Collingwood’s Damian Monkhorst, AFL chief executive Ross Oakley asked Peek to interview every indigenous player in the competition to understand the scope of racial abuse in the AFL.
The findings shocked Peek and the AFL and within weeks the Racial and Religious Vilification Policy was created. It was one of the first to be created by any sporting body anywhere in the world and would win an award from the United Nations.
A decade on, Peek helped author another groundbreaking AFL initiative, the Respect and Responsibility Policy, which put the game firmly down the path towards gender equity.
"Tony was deeply committed to strong values, and he was a sounding board and confidante for club CEOs and presidents across the competition, McLachlan said.
"He completely believed in the AFL as a competition that could develop and build its place in both Queensland and New South Wales, while expanding further into communities across Australia where sport is the central binding force."
Most recently at the AFL, Peek was a source of institutional wisdom, not just for senior managers and commissioners but for all staff. And his time and experience in the game meant he was known and liked by clubs and other key stakeholders such as government, venues, sponsors and the media.
Peek was a strong and firm individual, but he was enormously popular at the AFL, known for his love of fine dining and his expensive, if at times, eccentric, sense of fashion.
Peek was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and slowly wound down his day-to-day involvement at the League, but still had a key involvement in several projects and internal communications.
The AFL usually bestows its life memberships at its annual general meeting in March, but broke with protocol by awarding Peek his life membership in June, at an event held just before his beloved Sydney Swans took on Richmond at Etihad Stadium and which was attended by a cavalcade of past and present football identities.
Such was the respect with which he was held by the game's indigenous fraternity, Michael Long, battling health issues of his own, made a special trip from the Northern Territory to speak at the event.
Peek's other great sporting passion was baseball. He was a longtime president of the Waverley Baseball Club and life member as well and he was a key mover behind that club being a foundation member of the old Australian Baseball League and playing home games in front of large crowds at VFL Park.
He is survived by his wife Anne, children Amy and Matthew and their two grandchildren.