Spoiled sports can be agents of change  

Patrick Smith | May 16, 2009  

Article from:  The Australian  

SATURDAY, and the week has reached its dead end. But it is far from that - dead. Rugby league remains under scrutiny, damaged and bleeding. 

It will remain so while that room full of players in a Christchurch hotel continues to offer up too few names. 

Soccer now is soiled. What may be a criminal act by one player is, by association, presumed to be a window into what rampant sexual misconduct that appears is - but more likely was - rampant in rugby league. In the AFL the campaign by the league to screw more dollars from Melbourne's two premier stadiums continues. Yesterday it knocked back a $60million offer from representatives of the MCG trust.  

The league must be travelling even better than we think.  

Suggestions by AFL boss Andrew Demetriou that he would consider taking the traditional Anzac Day match between Collingwood and Essendon to Sydney and away from the MCG is offensive. A day sacred to the nation, and now sacred to its indigenous game, should never have been reduced to a bartering tool in the stoush for moolah between the AFL, Etihad Stadium and the MCG. The day and occasion at the MCG is about remembering the Anzacs and not filling the coffers.  

The AFL must be wary of overplaying its hand. Supporters are growing tired of clubs weeping poverty because of scrooge administrations of the MCG and Etihad Stadium. The MCG for one is $320million in debt because of grandstand construction. The AFL has no debt, plans to spend as much as $400million to make safe its new frontiers on the Gold Coast and in western Sydney and may have as much as $80million tucked away by the end of the season in its future fund.  

If the league and club officials botched their due diligence when negotiating stadium contracts it is then unhelpful and unfair to portray the venue management as the villains. It is the AFL which is the dill. Supporters are aware of this and are growing uneasy by the AFL's very public campaign - easily manipulated in a compliant media - to shame stadium management to cough up more money.  

Sydney FC's young international Sebastian Ryall has been suspended by Football Federation Australia after discovering that the 19-year-old faces court on a sex charge involving a teenage girl. Soccer reacted decisively, suspending Ryall from the A-League and international fixtures.  

Soccer had no alternative and acted with the power available under its code of conduct. The charge will gain disproportionate publicity and analysis because of the news environment.  

A community has been disgusted by the Matthew Johns revelation that he was one of a group of players who had sex with a 19-year-old girl in a New Zealand hotel in 2002. The woman's story, as reported on ABC television, was harrowing. Ryall's charge now sits in that context. Soccer's ban is appropriate and a community's frustration and disgust is hardly surprising.  

The NRL will never shake free of the Johns incident and its stigma until all players and officials take their share of responsibility for what has so harmed the image of Australian sportsmen. There must be a collection of players worried sick that their identities will be discovered, while a lot more wonder why they have been unfairly besmirched by association and absolutely nothing else. Demetriou sought to armour the AFL against any of its own allegations yesterday. He said - no doubt with all manner of things crossed - that group sex or "bunning" was once part of the AFL culture but wasn't any more.  

Rugby league has found timing to be irrelevant. While in 2004 it established a program to help its thick-headed players understand their innate responsibilities as men, the Johns gang bang happened in 2002 but still returned to haunt the league seven years later. On this issue and in this climate, yesterday is today and the past is the present.  

It would be of benefit if all the codes acted as one and financed a national campaign to alert men to their duties and accountability in relationships with, and the treatment of, women. While this has been a week that has concentrated the scrutiny of male behaviour in sports, sexual misconduct is a grave community issue. The majority of sportsmen act responsibly but they are not the ones who make the headlines. A unified drive by footballers, cricketers, surfers, athletes - the whole damn lot - would also be instructive to women. If men think and argue that these sexual situations are degrading then it will be reinforcement for women that their fame in these circumstances can be both fleeting and fraught.  

What must be remembered in a wretched week is that sport is a most powerful voice in a nation besotted by games. Football, cricket whatever. The very sports that have failed in their responsibilities this week remain the best and quickest agents of change. 


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