Apparently lockdowns are particularly difficult for rugby league players.
Last week, a range of penalties were issued to St George Illawarra Dragons players following a party at Paul Vaughan’s house, which not only breached NRL protocol, but New South Wales lockdown laws as well.
Later that week, Jai Arrow also breached NRL protocols while in State of Origin camp by having an unauthorised visitor to his room.
When I heard the news, one word that came to mind was ‘entitled’ and that word has been in my mind again this week.
Given the continued and evolving COVID-19 situation in Sydney, the NRL made the decision on Sunday to relocate all of the NSW and ACT-based teams to Queensland to keep the competition going.
In response, Paul Gallen penned an article asking us all to remember that players are human beings and to consider, in particular, the impact of a hub on the single players.
According to Gallen, “To be stuck in a bubble with nothing but men around you, if you’re a single bloke … there’s going to be urges at times and it’s going to be extremely hard for certain blokes to be alone for up to two months as the competition ends.”
Gallen has completely missed the mark here – are players incapable of resisting their physical urges? When players are in a hub, are urges at the top of the priority list?
This was a genuine opportunity for an experienced player to talk about the importance of connection and how hard the hub environment is for so many athletes who are travelling around the country to keep our favourite sporting codes alive.
Hubs are difficult for many varied reasons. The New Zealand Warriors had to leave their country for an extended period. Some athletes have families they need to leave behind, with some women involved in the AFL asking sporting competitions to think more broadly about the implications of the bubble for families.
Aaron Woods is toying with the decision not to head to the NRL bubble in Queensland, with his wife due to give birth in a couple of weeks.
It’s not just players either, it is the staff associated with the clubs, administration and officials.
I do have empathy for NRL players, it cannot be easy being in a bubble for such an extended period, but whether the single players’ ‘needs’ are taken care of is pretty low on my list of priorities, particularly when Gallen suggests that for players with families, being separated from them is just like being on tour.
It’s also important to remember the many other athletes who are doing what the NRL players are doing for a fraction of the wage.
NRL players have the benefit of being full-time professionals. Many other athletes do not fall in the same boat.
For example, many Super Netball players are juggling their sporting careers with a career. Sarah Klau from the NSW Swifts is an occupational therapist and Natalie Haythornthwaite is a speech pathologist. There are countless others.
When these players move into a bubble, they don’t have the benefit of it being their full-time, professional careers, which creates uncertainty and in some cases anxiety.
Athletes perform their best when life on and off the field is in a good place, so how can we expect them to be at their best when placing them in a bubble has such a big impact on their lives away from their sport?
Additionally, while my heart bleeds for players not having their ‘urges’ met, my heart bleeds more for some of the challenging decisions that have had to be made by others.
In the Super Netball, the Swifts and Giants have found themselves shifting from their homes in Sydney, to Queensland, to Melbourne with little notice.
Swifts coach Briony Akle had to make a decision to split up her family, with two of her sons remaining in Queensland and two joining her in Melbourne. West Coast Fever coach Stacey Marinkovick has travelled to the bubble without her 17-month-old son.
These are the challenges that people are overcoming that I want to read about, not the courage in being able to resist an ‘urge’ for two months.
Across the Aussie sporting landscape, the approach has been to keep competitions alive at all costs.
But at what point does the cost for our players and the people around them become too much?