Home > The Final Word > The protective culture that’s engulfing Australian sport

The protective culture that’s engulfing Australian sport

Whilst the cricket and football comes to an end for the summer, and the winter sports gear up for a big year ahead, it’s the same old same old from Australian sport. Another off field incident is taking the spotlight just a week out from the start of the season, and unfortunately for the NRL, it’s again one of the game’s pin-up boys, and another repeat offender. Whilst I will focus this on the NRL, this problem is one widespread, throughout all Australian sports, and if you listen to debate in NSW State politics, a NSW wide problem.

But moving away from that, and focusing on Carney, I’ll start with a few facts. FACT – Carney had been out the night before, and had a couple of drinks. FACT – He is on a Provisional Restricted Licence, which means adhering to a 0% blood alcohol level at all times whilst behind the wheel of a car. FACT – He was pulled over on the way to a meeting with his manager, and blew a 0.052 reading, which is just over the limit for an unrestricted driver. Taken for simply what it is, a low-range drink driving charge, the incident is minor. Suspension of licence and a fine, there are much worse crimes. But with his record, and the way in which it has been since handled, the incident highlights a key problem with sportsman in Australia, and there problems with booze and the law. I must preface this quickly though, by saying that I have never met Todd Carney, and as a result all of my perceptions are taken from the media, and other things I have been told.

Before completely ripping into them, I must admit that the initial response from Roosters CEO Steve Noyce was fairly close to the mark. Essentially he defended the player, but not the action. He said that Todd is a good kid, which is the case with most young sportsman in the spotlight, but he made a big mistake and he has let himself and the club down. A relatively hard line stance compared to other initial responses from clubs, but one appreciated by the rugby league community. In saying that, the action taken so far illustrates the problem with sports stars, and getting into trouble with alcohol.  Too often now young players are pampered and protected from any consequences of their actions apart from a fine which is probably about one thousandth of their pay. It is common knowledge throughout sporting communities that half of the problems that happen with young sports stars are covered up in an attempt to uphold the image of the club and the game. When they sense danger, they close ranks. Sports administrators think that they are doing the right thing by the player, but in my opinion they are doing the opposite. As the judge in Goulburn told Carney before kicking him out of his home town, unless you do something, you will end up in jail. And yet here he is, doing something relatively minor but stupid, and the implications, outside of the legal ones which I won’t go into, have been nill so far. And why? Cause he can play football? PLEASE!

He may be one of the best football players on the world, but do you think that one of the best car salesman in the world would be spared major consequences from his workplace if he had a wrap-sheet like Carney’s? That essentially is the problem. He has been spared consequences in his workplace so far because of his ability, which is a disease that is spreading across all Australian sport. Unfortunately due to politics within the Roosters club, and the NRL, people from both within and outside the club who may genuinely want to help him, are unable to do so because of politics within the club and the game (Is that Independent Commission I hear???).  I think it is lost on people who are defending sportsman who misbehave that, whilst they may have made a mistake, there are people who go there whole lives without earning so much as a parking ticket, so why should a kid who has been thrown almost everything in life get another chance?

I also think that the NRL has significantly dropped the ball on this one. Whilst the Roosters sit on their hands waiting to make a decision, they needed to be in there and doing something about the issue. Now quite rightfully the Roosters had first go at sorting the problem out, they have done nothing, and now the NRL is following suit. This, in my opinion, is partly due to their misguided hardline stance on former issues, most specifically the sexual assault case against then face of the game Brett Stewart. By going in and suspending him, and essentially painting him as guilty before any response was taken, they, in the kindest words, stuffed up. The Carney case is a different kettle of fish, but they still need to either remain consistent with a hardline approach, or at least admit they were wrong the first time and deal with each case on its merits, and quickly.

But when it comes down to it, I think that the handling of these issues throughout Australian sport has been done completely wrong. There is too much trivialising of issues with PR driven ‘seminars’ and education about these issues. The way they run these things, it is no wonder the players are essentially taking no notice whatsoever of it. The good ones stay good, and the bad ones say bad. I think that there needs to be more of this problem sorted internally, with a focus on the players themselves sorting it out, rather than academics and business people who would have no clue of the culture surrounding a sporting club. Sporting organisations need to look to their own senior players, and analyse whether these are the right players to be leading their club, because these young sportsmen and women are highly more likely to be influenced by these people than the pompous outsiders who try to help the players whilst also looking down their nose at them. If a couple of senior players at each club are used as someone to look up to, and go to when there may be some trouble, so much more could be dealt with quickly and in the right way for all concerned. You can tell which clubs have the right senior players by which ones have little trouble. I know from personal experience that a club like the Wests Tigers have, touch-wood, been able to manage these issues through a strong leadership group, who control the major off-field decisions made by the players.

To finish, unfortunately for Todd Carney, and fans of the NRL, he needs to be made an example of to set the tide right not only for NRL players now and in the future, but sportsmen and women Australia wide. Take the game away from him for some time, and make him appreciate what he had. Don’t let him even play park footy like up in Atherton with the ironically and aptly named Roosters, take it away from him altogether. Only then may he realise what a privileged position he was in, and how much his problems need to be dealt with. This is not a life ban, because that would do him less good than leaving him unpunished, but a lengthy one that sets an example for all sportsmen and women that this issue will not be swept under the carpet like it has done so far.

Let us know what you think of this issue. Leave a comment below, send us an email at whosplayingwho@gmail.com , or visit our Facebook page and post on our wall at www.facebook.com/whosplayingwho.

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