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The Roar

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Football will always get a bad rap until it takes control of its own narrative

Australian Football needs to tell it's own story, because the one others tell isn't good enough (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Expert
8th March, 2018
166

The NRL’s struggles to keep a lid on the Matt Lodge affair highlights just how hard it is to take charge of a narrative spiralling rapidly out of control.

The footage of Lodge’s terrifying New York rampage makes it hard to understand why the NRL is so determined to focus on the footy at the expense of a family who say they never received an apology from Lodge, let alone a cent of the $AU1.6 million they were awarded in compensation.

Yet that’s exactly what NRL boss Todd Greenberg has tried to do, writing yesterday for Fairfax that “rugby league has an enemy which threatens to tear us down… the doom merchants”.

According to Greenberg, it’s not acts like Lodge’s drunken frenzy that give rugby league a bad name, but rather – if I’m following his logic – the journalists who write about it.

“So often the heroics and athleticism on the field are quickly overshadowed by an agenda, opinion or act which robs the football of the attention it deserves,” Greenberg said.

What’s that? The leader of a governing body blaming external influences for his code’s own failings? Sound familiar?

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg

And before rugby league fans come steaming in to criticise me for writing about the Lodge incident, well, how do you like it when the shoe’s on the other foot?

Every time there’s an incident of anti-social behaviour at an A-League game – like the RBB ripping flares at the recent Sydney derby – football fans are expected to tolerate an avalanche of commentary from critics with no discernable links to the round-ball game.

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Why? Because that’s the status quo.

And we have a tendency to do things in Australia just because it’s the way things have always been done.

Which brings us to the narrative around football, and the way the game’s leaders should be shaping it.

It was no surprise to see Football Federation Australia announce Graham Arnold as the coach to succeed interim tactician Bert van Marwijk after the World Cup in Russia, with Arnie’s appointment to the top job somewhat of an open secret within the game.

Letting him take charge after the World Cup not only means Arnold can finish up his club commitments with Sydney FC – for this season, at least – but also begin the long-term process of attempting to defend the Socceroos’ Asian Cup crown.

And by announcing it yesterday – two days after van Marwijk named his first Socceroos squad – FFA ensured it received some positive coverage in a week when the split round means there are only two A-League games to be played this Saturday.

That’s not the worst move on a weekend when the return of the NRL means wall-to-wall mainstream media coverage of rugby league will inevitably resume.

Try pointing out that the A-League seems to be held to different standards than the NRL, though, and you’ll invite your own torrent of criticism – even from football fans.

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That’s essentially what happened to Simon Hill in midweek, after he ruffled more than a few feathers on the Fox Football podcast by pointing out that while diving in football is pilloried for being unmanly, the bad behaviour of players from other sports rarely seems to result in their codes being tarnished as a whole.

I wasn’t surprised by Hill’s comments because I had a beer with him last week and we talked at length about this very issue.

Nor was I surprised that certain parties were so keen to shut down the conversation.

As football fans we’re so conditioned to not rock the boat, that we’d rather remain silent about being treated like second-class citizens than risk getting offside with a mainstream Australia which already has zero interest in the game.

It’s about time we recognised this for the problem that it is – not least as a precursor to demanding football’s leaders do a better job of defending our game.

Because if football fails to write its own narratives, then those with their own ulterior motives will simply step in and write them for us.