Gillon McLachlan, the chief executive of Australian rules football’s AFL, has today (April 12) announced that he will step down at the end of the year after the ongoing 2022 season, which began in March and finishes on September 24.

Speaking at a press conference once teams had been informed of the news, McLachlan said: “I’m leaving now because it feels right: right for the AFL, right for me, right for my family. It’s clearly more complicated than that but actually, in simple terms, it’s not. The AFL's in incredible shape on whatever metric you assess it.”

McLachlan “has committed to completing the complicated processes attached to new collective bargaining agreements for the women’s and men’s competitions” prior to leaving his post, the league has said.

In addition, he will finalize new club-funding models and fresh broadcast deals, with those currently in place with commercial broadcaster Seven Network, the pay-television operator Foxtel, and telecoms giant Telstra due to conclude at the end of 2024.

McLachlan will also make a recommendation to the AFL Commission about the potential addition of an expansion team in Tasmania, with a decision on that having been earmarked for 2022.

Richard Goyder, chairman of the AFL Commission, said of McLachlan’s decision to step down: “From my point of view and the Commission’s point of view it would be correct to say that we’re not happy with that decision but we are completely supportive of it, if you get that sense.

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“Gill has always said to me that he wanted to go at the top of his game, at the time of his choosing, and when the AFL was in as good a shape as it can be … He’s done an outstanding job.”

McLachlan has spent the vast majority of his career at the AFL.

After a stint at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), he was enlisted as a strategy consultant to the AFL in 2000.

He was appointed as general manager of commercial operations in 2003, promoted to chief operating officer in 2008, then to deputy chief executive in 2012.

McLachlan became chief executive in 2014 following the resignation of his former boss Andrew Demetriou and will have served for eight full seasons when he vacates the role.

Goyder credited him variously with having expanded the women’s game (the AFL Women’s competition having been launched in 2017 three years ahead of schedule), improved the inclusiveness of the league, and kept it accessible and affordable for fans.

McLachlan also presided over the signing of a AUD2.5 billion (then $1.8 billion) six-year domestic rights deal that took effect in 2017, which was the biggest sports rights deal ever signed in Australia.

Goyder has given no indication of a timeline for appointing a replacement but advised that the league would work with an external executive search firm to do so.

Among the immediately apparent possibilities given are Travis Auld, the league’s current executive general manager for finance, clubs, and broadcast, as well as Western Bulldogs president Kylie Watson-Wheeler and Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale.

Whoever takes over will be only the AFL’s fourth chief executive in 26 years.