Johns sex scandal prompts respect calls
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called for greater respect for women, backing the decision to stand down rugby league commentator Matthew Johns over a group sex scandal.
But while Mr Rudd says sports organisations need to show leadership, he stopped short of supporting a Senate call to bring together Australia’s professional sporting codes to discuss establishing a national code of conduct.
Johns, a former Test player and rugby league personality, was one of several Cronulla Sharks players who took part in group sex with a 19-year-old woman in Christchurch, New Zealand, seven years ago.
New Zealand police say no crime was committed and the case will not be reopened.
The club involved, the Cronulla Sharks, has refused to name other players involved.
But Mr Rudd said all players, coaches and teams should take “every reasonable and practical step” to stress the importance of treating women with respect.
“It’s very plain that it’s very important for sporting organisations across the country to show leadership in demonstrating proper respect towards women,” Mr Rudd told reporters.
“Therefore, the decisions which have been recently taken I fully support.”
At the time, five police were sent to Australia to investigate the woman’s claims that the sex was not consensual, but all the players were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Johns was stood down by the Nine Network after revelations by the ABC Four Corners program of his involvement in the incident, and he has also quit his role as an assistant coach of the Melbourne Storm.
On Thursday he told reporters outside his Sydney home he wanted to put the ordeal behind him and did not feel like a scapegoat.
“I take full responsibility for my own actions and I’m moving on with my life now,” he said.
Johns’s version of events have been supported by a former work colleague of the alleged victim, with Tania Boyd telling the Nine Network the woman boasted about the incident.
“She was bragging about it to the staff and quite willing, openly saying how she had sex with several players. There was no trauma whatsoever,” said Boyd.
“I’m disgusted that a woman can all of a sudden change her story from having a great time to then turning it into a terrible crime.”
A handful of former Cronulla players have distanced themselves from the scandal.
Brett Kimmorley, David Peachey, Preston Campbell, Colin Best, Nick Graham and Paul Mellor have all given assurances they were not involved in the incident.
Only Johns, halfback Brett Firman and current skipper Paul Gallen have been named as participating or, in Gallen’s case, being aware of what went on.
Former skipper Peachey called for the players who were involved to out themselves so Johns wasn’t the only scapegoat.
“I would like to think that some of the teammates would really put their hand up and come out and support Matty in this situation,” Peachey told Network Ten.
Kimmorley, one of just five players from the 2002 Sharks side still playing in the NRL, said he had been out playing golf with other teammates when the incident allegedly occurred and, while he was lured to the room by a large gathering, he didn’t enter.
“I kept walking and went back to my room,” he told Fox Sports News.
Gold Coast fullback Preston Campbell spoke out earlier in the week, declaring his innocence even though he was interviewed by police.
“I wasn’t part of it. I hope we’re not all tainted. I hope they’re not looking at me. All I remember is coming back to Sydney and being interviewed by police,” Campbell told the Daily Telegraph.
“I hadn’t done anything wrong but that was still nerve-racking.”
Mellor, who is no longer a player and works with the NRL as a referee, was confronted by his employers as to whether he was involved in the sordid affair.
“We have discussed the matter with Paul and we have received assurances that he was not involved,” said NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley.
Prominent female MPs have slammed the NRL over its failure to change its culture, and called for other players involved in the group sex session to out themselves.
Greens women’s status spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Rudd government should harness community outrage over the Johns controversy to clean up sport.
“We need to stamp out the sleaziness, the thuggery and the violence,” she told reporters in Canberra.
Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education Maxine McKew said the NRL’s sex education policy was not working, despite declarations of a culture change.
“Every player has to start thinking about respect for women, that’s what’s at the heart of this,” Ms McKew said.
NSW MP and former federal sex discrimination commissioner Pru Goward said the other NRL players involved were “cowards” and should identify themselves or be outed by the club.
But Cronulla Sharks chairman Barry Pierce said it was too risky to identify the other players.
“The club is not in a position to publish the names of those interviewed by the New Zealand Police,” he told reporters.
He called for all those involved to apologise to the young woman.
The original police investigation involved up to 80 interviews, and was thorough and conclusive, Detective Inspector David Long, from Christchurch police said.
“I’m completely satisfied that we got full and truthful accounts at the time and that no crime was committed,” Det Insp Long told AAP on Thursday.© AAP 2013