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Opinion

Why I’m worried about the quality of NRL journalism

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Expert
13th May, 2020
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2813 Reads

Each morning during this COVID pandemic, I have woken up and repeated the following phrase: I am grateful for a healthy family and for a job.

Repeating that mantra has helped me stay positive in these overwhelmingly depressing times.

But even in trying to stay positive, like others, I have had moments of being overwhelmed. Those feelings have amplified over the last few weeks as I wonder what sport will look like when the world begins to return to some sense of normality.

Sport is that special something that brings a twinkle to my eye. It creates unspeakable joy, passion, determination and overwhelming loss. And over the last couple of months, my life has been emptier because of its disappearance.

In the coming months, there is plenty to look forward to. The NRL is set to resume on May 28 and other codes are set to follow.

But sport is not just what happens on the field. It is about the community around the game and all the pieces that come together to make our games what they are.

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Over the last few months I have watched as colleagues and friends of mine have been made redundant from organisations like Fox Sports. Sweeping changes have been made at Cricket Victoria. The future of AAP still hangs in the balance and just yesterday it was announced that there will be no Big League in 2020.

News like this fills me with grave concern about the future of sports media in this country.

We have already had a taste of it. Staff writers at Fox Sports have contributed several clickbait-type pieces over the last couple of weeks, including one about Latrell Mitchell and his lack of match fitness, which created a frenzy on social media.

Latrell Mitchell poses for photographs after a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL press conference

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Agendas are nothing new in rugby league, but it is astounding to see the way different players are treated. Take Mitchell, who even prior to breaking lockdown laws was being hounded in the media for not singing the Australian national anthem and for his appearance in the most recent NRL ad.

He was targeted because of his race by some fans. Compare that to Nathan Cleary, who has allegedly lied to the integrity unit and is still considered by the Penrith Panthers as a future leader of the club.

Our news feeds have been filled with stories about anti-vaxxers and the celebrities that are supporting the players that have taken this stance, debate about the way the NRL spends its money and a back and forth between Channel Nine and the NRL about who is better placed to look after the NRL’s digital arm.

The nonsense written about the NRL’s digital arm has been fascinating to see. Some writers allege it has no value, yet Channel Nine seem very eager to acquire it. I can’t imagine why Nine might be interested in acquiring a source that acts like a competitor to them.

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Can you imagine how damaging it would be to rugby league if Channel Nine and Fox Sports were the main entities where we got our news? Especially in an environment where journalists have been made redundant while we keep former players on contract to keep us up to date on the game?

Channel 9 commentators Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler talking.

(Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

But it’s not just the media that worries me.

Cost cutting does, too.

I acknowledge this pandemic has forced all companies to think about how money can be better spent. There is almost no company in the world that was ready for the impact of this pandemic and there will be no company that returns post-pandemic in the same way.

But our sports need to be careful about where savings come from, particularly if it means reductions to funding for grassroots or for the women’s version of the game.

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There has been plenty of excitement about the NRL’s return in May but I have heard next to nothing about what is happening with the women’s game going forward.

This worries me after news from the Sydney Roosters and Brisbane Broncos earlier this year that they would not be able to pay to field teams this year. No doubt the NRL are working hard to see what the women’s game will look like in 2020, but going backward is simply not an option.

I want sport to return as much as anyone else, but sport will not be sport without diversity and inclusion or without the quality journalism we have come to expect from many of our news agencies over the last couple of years.