Boak saga a sign of things to come
Port Adelaide star Travis Boak (Slattery Images)
The AFL fishbowl is kidding itself if it thinks Geelong’s attempted raid on Port Adelaide club champion Travis Boak is an isolated incident.
And it is bordering on delusional if it thinks the transition to free agency will be painless.
The dust has settled now following Chris Scott’s trip to Adelaide last week with brass band members Joel Selwood and Jimmy Bartel in tow, and it looks like Boak will stay at Alberton for the next two years at least – so says the grapevine.
But this strange fear lingers. How dare Geelong approach a contracted player like that?
Is this the future? Are we about to go down the path of rugby league, where players switch or commit to other clubs in the middle of the season?
Oh, the horror!
Here’s the thing. It’s not the future – it’s the present. This is normal.
Throughout the whole Boak conversation, it’s almost been forgotten that the only reason we know about Scott, Selwood and Bartel’s flight of fancy is because a journalist caught wind of it.
This was not a brazen, unprecedented move. This was a painfully regular thing caught on camera.
Clubs are already allowed to meet with players, according to AFL rule 4.7, but they are not allowed to reach agreement.
If this rule is meant to stop clubs like Geelong from meeting with wantaway players like Boak, it is broken.
If the AFL wants to legislate against this, then they will find it near impossible – especially considering that at the same time they are trying to give the player more control over his destiny.
The Cats simply wouldn’t have been doing their job properly if they weren’t throwing the kitchen sink at a player who is so openly considering moving.
North Melbourne did the same thing with Boak, but somehow escaped the scorn.
Is this disrespectful to Port Adelaide? Barely, considering that club is using the media to pressure the player into making his mind up about his future.
Is this illegal? No. Unethical? Certainly not in the world of modern professional sport.
Are Geelong supposed to be good boys and wait until the end of the season, when another club may pounce before? This would be unwise. The Cats have been burnt before.
Their former coach was tapped up by a rival club, and a certain bald-headed superstar was locked in ongoing talks with an expansion side mid-season.
Boak’s is the most recent case, but there are dozens of others. There have to be. It’s so incredibly naive to think otherwise. In fact, the AFL encouraged it with the introduction of GWS and Gold Coast.
Tom Scully and Gary Ablett were both approached directly while they were still under contract.
Other players and clubs do the same. It’s hard to imagine Collingwood forward Travis Cloke hasn’t caught up with the many and varied clubs interested in his services.
And to pick another example out of the air, does anyone really think Essendon only started talking to Suns starlet Josh Caddy during last year’s trade period?
Certain players will soon be allowed to test the open market, with no strings attached, and move freely.
And we’re expecting them not to commit to moves before round 24? There is simply no stopping it.
We are burying our heads in sand if we think it will not continue. The only difference is it will never again be caught on camera.
Yet this AFL culture of smoke and mirrors continues.
This is a culture where nobody says anything about their future, because if they reveal they’re off to another club – as Phil Davis and Nathan Bock found out at Adelaide and as the Power threaten to do with Boak – those players will be unfairly told to clear their lockers.
Loyalty is so important, so prized in the AFL that if players want to leave a club, they have to lie through their teeth for a whole year, wait until just after the last game of the season, and then skip town before coming clean.
Is enforced dishonestly loyal behaviour from clubs? And isn’t the circus that surrounds a player who puts contract talks off more distracting than if they actually said they were on the move?
The mere thought of becoming like rugby league is too much for some AFL heavies to even consider… but is it really that bad, compared to what we have?
At least in the NRL, players and clubs are upfront. When someone wants to move, they say it. When other teams offer terms, everybody understands. And if a player decides to shift clubs at the end of a season, then at least everything is out in the air, so that everyone can get back to the business of playing football.
The AFL loves its precious tradition, though, so that won’t happen – not willingly.
But a move towards a modern player movement system like free agency, and this immature view on loyalty and negotiation in the wake of the Boak situation, simply won’t mix well.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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