A lot of the focus on the NRL’s new draconian rules for off-field misbehaviour have been concerned with a central, hypothetical scenario.
Player A is charged with a serious crime. He is suspended – “without any presumption of guilt” and on full pay – until the legal process runs its course.
The legal process runs its course over two years. He is found innocent. He sues the NRL for ruining his career.
To that, I say this: the NRL recently recorded a surplus of $42.8 million; don’t you think they can afford a few payouts?
I’d even think they may have costed and factored in compensating a few players when they announced these new changes.
Besides, other codes of rugby and competitions in other countries aren’t bound by the stand-down rule (although it would be interesting to hear what Super League have to say about it). If Player A is offered full pay by the NRL – something else that is obviously going to be a budgeted financial burden on the game – and plays another sport while stood down, it’s going to make it hard to argue in court his career has been unfairly blighted.
Not impossible – but difficult.
Does all that make it OK for someone who is found innocent to be banned from playing the game they love? In my mind, yes.
Rugby league is full of V8 Supercar sponsors when its pre-eminence in NSW and Queensland suggest it should have its share of Formula 1 backers as well. They don’t appear to want to go anywhere near it.
Qantas, HSBC, Thai Airways, Invast Global, QBE – all those brands that currently back the AFL and rugby union could be wooed over if we could somehow make ‘rugby league’ and ‘bogan’ not come up so regularly in word association games across the country.
And the money that would come from those sponsors would fund even more payouts for wronged players. The crackdown should pay for itself if it works.
We’re always at a crossroads in rugby league and we never take the right turn. So to call this a cultural crossroads is no big deal because we seem to stand at those regularly.
As for players being targeted with malicious intent, it’s difficult to be be actually charged with a crime in which you’ve never even met the accuser.
In Britain, Premier League footballers live in their own enclaves, socialise most often in exclusive nightclubs or in each others’ sprawling backyards, and live with the constant knowledge the paparazzi are after them.
That’s the reality now for NRL players. You can’t be accused you of sexual assault if you never met your accuser, because you never went out.
If you only go to the post-match function and then to a friend’s place or a private room at the nightclub where you know everyone, then baseless allegations leading to actual police charges are less likely. Not impossible. Less likely. Those videos will never surface if you never shot them.
“But rugby league is the game of the people!” I hear you say. “Its appeal is that you can meet the player down the shops, he’s just like you!”
And to that, I go back to the start of this column. The culture of the game has to change – and it has to lose some good traits and some good people along the way.
Not everyone can go with rugby league where rugby league needs to go.