Gallop’s departure right decision, but poorly handled
Former chief executive of the Australian Rugby League Commission David Gallop. AAP Image/Dean Lewins
The departure of David Gallop from his post as NRL Commission CEO has surprised many, more for the timing than the end result.
From the moment the NRL Commission became a reality, Gallop’s days were numbered. The business relationship was forced; it was not an amicable or natural fit to start with. It came through the conditions negotiated by News Limited that cleared the way for the new Commission.
Loyalty had its perks for the former legal adviser for Super League.
For ten years, Gallop had the trust of his News Limited bosses. Originally, the NRL had been a partnership between News and the Australian Rugby League to bring the game back together after the Super League war. Three representatives of each side combined to make up the board in which the CEO was to report. However, for better or worse Gallop was allowed to almost single handedly run the game as he saw fit.
So, when the Commission arrived with its eight new faces that included hands on chairman John Grant, the operational setup that Gallop had enjoyed for so long was gone. Even though Gallop had signed a four year deal, Grant wasn’t backward in coming forward when he quipped “Don’t forget, you’re working for a new boss now.”
For the independent Gallop, having to answer to someone other than an old friend who simply signed off on whatever he wanted was a bigger change than he could handle. Basically, for an unnatural relationship, it was a natural end.
It was also an undignified end. For a man who had run the highest level of club rugby league in Australia for over a decade, the farewell given to Gallop was nothing short of disgraceful.
The debacle began when Grant held his own press conference, alone, informing the rugby league world that the days of Gallop being CEO were over. Effective immediately. A key word in Grant’s announcement was “reactive”. He seemed to almost spit the word out in disgust. “Reactive” was how the new boss saw Gallop’s management style. The phrase “fresh approach” soon followed in Grant’s address. It was obvious to everyone that Grant had not been Gallop’s number one fan.
Then, it was Gallop’s turn. He held a press conference on his own as well. All alone. No support from those who had worked diligently beside him, no well wishes from any of the newly appointed commission and certainly no thanks from them either. He was alone for all to see in every way possible. The only thing they didn’t do was throw him out the front door of league’s new headquarters, which was, ironically, a building that Gallop had a significant hand in delivering for the new administrators of the game.
It was one of the worst good-byes of all time. Dictators have been farewelled better than this. It would be easier to understand if Gallop had done terrible job. But he hadn’t, he had undertaken one of the hardest jobs in the country and somehow made it work. Granted it didn’t always go smoothly, but what does?
The Gallop era will be remembered primarily for the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal. A close second will be Brett Stewart. On one issue I give him the thumbs up, on the other I have to agree with John Grant’s assessment in that the response was very “reactive” and a load of PR crap.
The strangest thing that I found following the Storm saga was that even after Gallop took away two premierships, stripped three minor premierships, made their 2010 season null and void, fined the club $500,000 and made them pay back the $1.1 million in prize money – was that he was still criticised.
He took too long to make a decision, he should have known this was going on, he wasn’t hard enough, he was too hard on them, blah, blah, blah. The man had done what he had to do. For a competition built on the premise of a salary cap, what other option did he have?
Gallop had to act on a serious salary cap breach early in his tenure when the Bulldogs blatantly disregarded the rules during the 2002 season. The penalty for the Bulldogs was to have the club stripped of all but four competition points, effectively ending their season. They were also fined $500,000.
The Storm obviously didn’t think that penalty was enough to stop them from doing the same thing. So I ask again, what option did he have? To me, that was strong leadership. He took the time to get all the facts, he then acted accordingly. It sent a clear message to the other clubs. So far, it seems the clubs have listened.
However when it comes to the events of Friday, March 6, 2009, Gallop and I have a differing opinion.
The Manly Sea Eagles decided that they would hold their season launch at Manly Leagues Club to celebrate the winning of the 2008 premiership and hopefully win back to back titles. The problem was that it turned into an alcohol fuelled free for all. Words were said that shouldn’t have been said, push turned to shove and eventually a punch was thrown.
Brett Stewart wasn’t involved in any of these incidents, yet he found himself suspended for four weeks and no longer the face of the rugby league.
The rugby league world woke up the next day to find that Brett Stewart had been accused of the rape of a 17-year-old girl. Straight away, Gallop pushed the panic button and went into PR mode.
This is the reason Stewart and those close to him will never forgive Gallop for the action he took. Not to mention the perceived guilt put on Stewart from the NRL CEO before any evidence was given in the courts. Stewart was eventually cleared after a lengthy legal process but the damage had well and truly been done.
Stewart was guilty of one thing, being heavily intoxicated. His teammates and many other patrons at the season launch were also guilty of this. Forget the “face of the game” issue as we would’ve been reading a lot more about Anthony Watmough’s altercation with a club sponsor if it wasn’t for the rape allegation. Gallop was more concerned with the court of popular opinion than the court of law. Rumour and innuendo instead of fact. This was a weak moment in Gallop’s leadership and unfortunately it will be one of the first things many think of when remembering the Gallop era.
However, even Gallop’s critics accept that the game is in a better place since he took over a decade ago. Each club can beat any other on their day. The salary cap is doing its job, the clubs are being administered better (not perfectly though eh Titans?), the game is on the verge of its biggest TV rights deal and there is a genuine hunger for the game that exceeds the traditional heartlands.
It was time for change, but in the great rugby league tradition, the departure of David Gallop has been a dog’s breakfast. Hopefully the Commission will handle itself better when making other changes to the way the great game of rugby league is administered in this country.
But in saying that, I wouldn’t be adverse to the Commission giving Bill Harrigan his marching orders in the same fashion. Just a suggestion.
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