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Opinion

No longer in survival mode, the ARLC needs a different approach

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Expert
1st June, 2021
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I am a firm believer in the idea that there is a place in sport for everyone.

No matter who you are, what your background or what your skill level, there is always a role for you if you want to contribute.

The roles look different. You may be best suited to sit on a board, or to volunteer or to play, but the key message is that there is room for all of us.

The trick is finding the right people for the right roles at the right time.

In rugby league at the moment, there seem to be two prevailing views about Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V’landys.

Either you are with him or you are against him.

Either you think he is the best chair that rugby league has ever had or you think that under his watch, the game will self-destruct.

ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

But like most issues, I don’t think that this is one with a black-and-white answer.

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Rugby league was extremely fortunate to have had V’landys as chair last year during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Bully’ is a strong word, but it may be appropriate in this case. V’landys helped rugby league bully its way back into the frame.

Given V’landys’ connections, his business savvy, his supreme focus on a goal and his ability to influence key stakeholders, rugby league returned on 28 May 2020.

Rugby league was the first sport to return in Australia following the lockdowns. When V’landys first announced that he was targeting a 28 May return, people scoffed at him. Many, including myself, didn’t think it was possible.

But rugby league achieved the impossible last year and a big reason for that was the contribution of V’landys. At that time, he was the right leader for the sport.

But what’s interesting about organisations is that they behave almost like living, breathing things.

They change over time – their culture changes, their direction changes and so do the organisation’s key priorities. This is the case in rugby league too.

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Last year, the priority was survival. Is that the priority this year too?

Is V’landys’ style still the best suited to what rugby league’s strategic directions are going forward?

I’ve watched what has played out this year with interest. First there were the hastily introduced rule changes, which were communicated merely weeks out from the start of the 2021 season.

We may not have enough data to understand their full impact yet. But it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that making the game faster causes fatigue. When players are fatigued, they are more likely to get injured and more likely to make silly errors.

In the opening weeks of the competition we saw an increase in concussions and many players impacted by injury. To what extent was this caused by the rule changes?

In response, another announcement came down from the ARLC: a crackdown on head-high tackles.

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We all know what the impact of that has been. Multiple players binned. Multiple players put on report. Multiple players sent off.

Victor Radley of the Roosters is sent to the sin bin.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The approach that the Commission took both with the announcement of the new rules and the crackdown on head-high contact was similar to how the pandemic was handled last year: move quickly and get it done.

The difference is we are no longer in survival mode and I’m not sure that this approach is the best.

When you talk about the crackdown, most rugby league fans seem to be in agreement – ‘most’ being the very important word in that sentence.

Most people recognise that head-high contact is a risk to player welfare. Most want head-high contact to be policed and the rules to be enforced.

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The problem in this scenario, though, is not the outcome, it’s the process. The crackdown was imposed mid-season, without any warning and most importantly with little consultation.

During the previous administration, Peter Beattie and Todd Greenberg were at pains to point out the important role that players have in our game.

The players are key stakeholders in the game and are the reason that our sport exists. Without James Tedesco, Cameron Munster, Clint Gutherson and Nathan Cleary, there is no rugby league and there is no product.

So it seems peculiar how little the players and the Rugby League Players’ Association have been consulted about rules and interpretation that impact them.

Organisations have different needs over time. Those in charge of organisations need to recognise those changing needs and adapt their style so that the organisation’s strategic imperatives can be achieved.

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Rugby league survived last year and led the way for sports to return to play. But we are in a totally different situation now and the approach used last year will not work as effectively going forward.

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