There’s a great story about an English official and an Australian rugby league counterpart having a conversation in the bathroom a few years ago during a break at an International Federation meeting.
“Unlike you, we don’t consider ourselves to be the police,” the Brit said, goading the Australian.
“We leave it to them to enforce the law. We just run a rugby league competition.”
Our Brit kept going with this line of “banter” for long enough for his Antipodean colleague to tell him, in no uncertain terms, where he could go with his observations.
The difference in attitudes to player misbehaviour between the NRL and Super League has rarely been more starkly captured than over the past 48 hours with the responses to Albert Kelly being captured in video calling a woman at McDonald’s a “slut” and a “whore”.
The incident is all over Australian websites while in Britain, Hull FC have only said they have dealt with the matter “internally” while the Rugby Football League – at the time of writing – has made no comment at all.
Also at the time of writing, the local paper – the Hull Daily Mail – did not appear to be carrying a story (they may have by time you read this) on the incident and sections of the rugby league specialist press have buried it.
This is an intellectual rabbit hole we’ve been down before.
You can’t bring the game into disrepute if no-one reports on the alleged misdeed. Rugby league is a small sport in Britain; the national newspapers would have little idea who Albert Kelly is.
So Albert Kelly has only brought the sport into disrepute among people on Twitter (where the video was originally posted) and those who read Australian websites.
And if he hasn’t brought the sport into disrepute because very few people in Britain know about it and he hasn’t broken the law … you can appreciate what the official in the washroom was saying.
If a tree abuses a hamburger maker in the forest and no-one is there to film it…
The problem we have here is the entire disrepute idea. Effectively, by holding players responsible for damaging the image of the game we are allowing those who determine that image – the media – to dictate sanctions meted out.
That’s unacceptable; it’s the antithesis of leadership.
In Britain, many members of the media will tell you they feel they have to “fight for” and “stick up for” rugby league on a daily basis. Not one national paper has a full-time rugby league writer; they all eke out livings getting paid mileage and begging for space.
They are therefore not going to turn on a dime to highlighting anti-social behaviour by league players as soon as they are told about it when they spend the rest of their time extolling the sport’s virtues to unlistening southern editors.
In NSW and Queensland, if the number one sport was quoits then many of our current rugby league writers would be quoits journalists. I believe I would have been a quoits journalist for the last 30 years.
They do not hold themselves responsible for the image of rugby league. They hold themselves responsible for being competitive every day on behalf of their publications because they’re at the pointy end of the newspaper, radio, TV and website business.
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The rugby league journalists in Britain, largely, do not have an impact on the bottom line of their media platforms (unless it’s a rugby league specialist outlet). Their colleagues in Australia do.
The Albert Kelly affair highlights an ideological flaw in the way both leagues deal with bad behaviour off the field.
In Australia, we must somehow learn to look past the fact that the Daily Telegraph is more interested in rugby league players committing “atrocities” (the term was used almost in jest in the 1990s and 2000s – then we started to get real atrocities back in the news) than Brighouse-based Rugby League Express is.
I realise the Integrity Commission is taking steps in this direction but this sorry affair is further evidence the NRL needs to act according to what players actually do, not in response to how much bad publicity it attracts.
What does it tell us about the leadership of the game in England, about the verisimilitude of the argument floated under the hand drier all those years ago?
If the woman at McDonald’s had been caught by Ronald, Hamburgler and the rest of her bosses abusing Albert Kelly in the way he seems to have abused her (regardless of provocation), she would be dealt with.
And a big company like McDonalds or Starbucks or Amazon would no doubt answer media enquiries over what action was taken. That is to say, even if Albert Kelly was a cook with a public facing corporation, that corporation would feel a sense of accountability to that public.
Super League and Hull FC so far feel no such compunction to be accountable, even though members of the public were involved and they provide a service directly to the public which is entirely responsible for their businesses.
That’s very sad, regardless of what action or actions you think should be taken against Kelly.
For the NRL, showing leadership is not saying ‘how high?’ when the media says ‘jump’. For Super League, leadership is jumping regardless of the media saying nothing.