Finally! A scandal we can sink our teeth into

Ben Pobjie Columnist

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Even AD didn't understand the Viney decision. AAP Iamge/Julian Smith

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I should start by saying that I have no idea what’s been going on at Essendon. In fact I don’t think anyone does. That’s the main problem, as I see it.

The entire club administration seems to be in the position of a young man who’s woken up the morning after a full moon covered in blood and clutching a bag of Schmackos, with no recollection of the night before.

“We think something bad happened,” they’re saying, “but buggered if we know what it actually was.”

Whether Essendon players were given illegal substances, and whether those substances were administered by appropriately qualified medical professionals, or mad scientists who watched Grey’s Anatomy once, is just one of the ingredients bobbing about in a huge murky soup of unknowns.

Especially so in the wake of an earth-shattering report from the Australian Crime Commission that reveals that apparently drugs are often distributed by criminals, and that in sports where millions of dollars are gambled, match-fixing might occasionally happen.

But frankly, at least with regard to the Essendon issue, the current scandal is kind of a relief.

The fact is, the AFL is not a particularly scandal-ridden sport. Oh sure, sometimes it seems to be, but that’s only because the AFL community – and it is a community, made up of everyone with even the most tangential connection to playing, coaching, reporting on, or watching the sport – likes scandals.

And so completely dull, uninteresting stories get blown up into crises regularly.

That’s why it’s such a buzz to finally have a REAL scandal to sink our teeth into. Performance-enhancing drugs! Dodgy scientists! Shady dealings! Mysterious injections! Kyle Reimers! It has it all. And it makes a nice change from the usual AFL “drug scandal” story.

As soon as there is a whiff of drug use hinted at around football, the media goes into overdrive, breathlessly reporting the most minor of issues like it was Watergate itself, inflating the newsworthiness of every infraction to the level of a story about the prime minister turning into a lizard.

And generally acting as if the headline “20-year-old smokes pot” wasn’t about as shocking a revelation as “Sun continues daily rising, setting schedule”.

The amount of column inches, the number of innocent dead trees, expended on hyperventilating over every incident of a footballer possibly being within a three-mile radius of a bong, or for that matter every time a footballer stays out past midnight, or every time a footballer is photographed displaying more than a quarter of a gram of body fat, is so wearyingly idiotic that yes, dammit, it is actually refreshing to discover that at last the AFL community is fanning itself and calling for smelling salts over something that might actually matter.

I mean, really, everyone loves a proper scandal, don’t they?

The progression of a sporting competition can get so samey at times, game after game, year after year, Sam Newman’s Street Talk after Sam Newman’s Street Talk, that in spite of ourselves (and by “ourselves”, I basically mean me), it’s easy to get a little shiver of excitement when something threatens to upset the applecart and make for a pleasing point of difference from every other season.

Of course I don’t expect Essendon fans to feel this way, but if I went around caring how fans of clubs that I don’t support feel about things, I’d hardly be an Australian, would I?

It’s just exhilarating to feel that this is real. It’s not a phoney-baloney crisis, like those ones that crop up every now and then where the Players’ Association gets all uppity and starts making dark suggestions of “action” and then they and the AFL bitch at each other for a bit, and then nothing happens.

No, here we have a situation where players might have been committing genuine acts of cheating. An entire club could possibly have been Lance Armstronging it up, and even if they haven’t, we might have learnt that football clubs are a lot dumber than we thought.

There could be players suspended. There could be an entire club suspended. A Brownlow medal could be stripped. A shockwave could go through the entire competition as every club board hastily googles the guy they hired off the street who claimed to be an internationally respected high-performance sports biologist.

This just got serious. And thought of course, of course, it’s terrible to discover such goings-on and the integrity of the sport and the loss of innocence and harrumph harrumph, but isn’t it just a little bit satisfying, once in a while, to hear about a scandal in the AFL, and open up the paper to find out there really IS one?

Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.
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