Passion is an under-rated commodity in the workplace these days. Cool, level-headed conservatism is in. Get someone with brains and nice suits and the ability to manage finances and hey presto! There’s your new boss.

Expensive eyewear maketh not the sporting administrator

It’s upside down logic. Passion for the business is valuable in any major enterprise. Say what you like about my boss Rupert Murdoch, and many of you will, but you can’t argue that the guy loves the game. The same with the late Kerry Packer.

Over in the AFL, you get the impression Andrew Demetriou is so passionate about his sport, he still rips into a new box of Weet-Bix to see if he can find a Buddy Franklin card at the bottom. The NRL could have followed suit and installed a leader who knows and loves the game. They didn’t, and they’ll likely pay for it.

The NRL’s new boy is a Welsh banker called David Smith, who presents in about as colourful a manner as his name. Australian Rugby League Commission chief John Grant unveiled him two weeks ago. Grant is a former league player so you’d think he might have chosen one of his own.

Nope. He went for a hollow suit. A man whose chief recommendation is that he managed $50 billion worth of assets at an investment bank. Well gee, why not? After all, what grief did bankers ever cause in the world?

Smith failed his first test so spectacularly, you wonder what on earth prepossessed him to attend the red ribbon-cutting press conference at which his appointment was announced.

He couldn’t name players on an image behind him on the wall, and was blank when asked to name the current Australian captain. For the record, it’s Cameron Smith, a man who needs three mantelpieces for all the honours he’s accumulated in the game.

Smith not knowing the other Smith was like Alan Joyce walking into his first Qantas presser and not being able to identify the A380.

Speaking of Joyce, there’s a perfectly sound argument that he didn’t spend his childhood playing with model planes nonstop, but what’s that got to do with running an airline? A good CEO is a good CEO.

That’s all well and good, but business and sport are different. This is the crux of this issue. It’s one thing memorising Sun Tzu’s Art of War and all the corporate doublespeak that goes with CEOing, but there are some “industries” where your skills do not transfer. Sport is one of them.

Rugby league needs someone who knows the rules so they can act swiftly when there are debacles with, say, the obstruction rule, as there was in 2012. It needs someone who understands the fans so they can make the right decisions over expansion teams. It needs someone who understands 100 year old interstate and international rivalries so that they can rule firmly on the heated issue of rep player eligibility.

These are but three examples. But they all pertain to the unavoidable fact that rugby league is a tribal game, which needs at the helm someone of the tribe.

David Gallop was a middling city lawyer before he became NRL CEO but he succeeded because he loved the game. He attended matches in his spare time long before it became his job to front the media on Monday morning and explain why a boofhead shat in a hotel hallway.

Can you see David Smith handling a situation like this with authority? I can’t. The bloke needs to be part referee, part schoolmaster, part policeman, part rabid fan and part boofhead himself. He also needs to be part businessman of course, but the numbers game, which he’s undoubtedly good at, is but a fraction of the equation.

Everyone with a good word for David Smith says he’ll do exactly the things you’d pretty much expect his financial team and back room staff to keep doing anyway, with or without his urging.

Right now, rugby league seems like a sport which doesn’t trust itself. It doesn’t need a businessman at this point in its history. Didn’t it just seal a billion dollar TV rights deal? What the sport needs is a statesman. An insider who understands the fine line the sport must tread between its proud bogan instincts and its middle class aspirations.

Brains and the ability to manage finances will get David Smith only so far. He’ll be lucky to last the season.


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    • Bill says:

      05:02am | 05/12/12

      The fact that the rugby CEO doesn’t even know the names of the game’s biggest players just reinforces the fact that the game will always live in the shadow of the nation’s most popular and premier sport, Australian Rules.

    • Lucky says:

      06:26am | 05/12/12

      Who’s the rugby CEO? Doesn’t he know who Will Genia is?
      Anyhow, I’m more a league fan Bill.

    • Levi says:

      06:31am | 05/12/12

      No one cares what you think Bill the troll.

      The fact that NRL outrates AFL on TV blows your argument out of the water. That and we can actually play against other countries, unlike AFL.

      Keep trolling mate.

    • Bill says:

      07:00am | 05/12/12

      Hey Levi,

      Fact : The AFL outrates the NRL on TV.

      Fact : More people attend AFL games than NRL games.

      Fact : There are more paid up members of AFL than there are for the NRL.

      Fact : The AFL finals series and its Grand Final always outrate the NRL’s.

      Should I keep embarrassing you with even more facts? At least the AFL’s CEO actually played the game at a professional level and knows the names of all the players.

      Good luck with your trolling chump.

    • ronny jonny says:

      07:19am | 05/12/12

      The fact that NRL rates higher on TV than AFL means it’s supporters are too fat and lazy to go to a game. The NRL management doesn’t care about ground attendance as long as they get money from TV. All those empty seats speak of a game that has lost it’s way, that has no heart or soul. If the fans can’t be bothered waddling away from their fridges for long enough to attend a match it will ultimately die out. The fact that most of the good players are Kiwis tells you something of the level of interest Aussies have in League, not enough to bother playing it anymore.

    • Chris says:

      07:22am | 05/12/12

      Awesome comment Bill! I love AFL but watched AUSTRALIA vs Wales? The other day for something to do - I laughed all the way thru .... Dumbest game ever. Most of it was piles of men squirming on top of each other, huge kicks to the other end of the field that went out and then visa versa, or lengthy delays whilst players were taken off likely suffering quadriplegia ..... It should be in the TV Guide under Black Comedy.

    • Levi says:

      08:10am | 05/12/12

      You’re not embarrasing me at all Bill, you are embarrasing yourself. Because NRL outrates AFL. Sorry mate. Keep deluding yourself that it’s the “national” game.

      It’s a game that is cared for by at best 4 Australian states. Meanwhile in QLD, NSW and ACT, where over half of the Australian population lives, we don’t give a rats arse about your game. Nor does anyone else in the world for that matter. I guess if no one cared for league they broadcasters wouldn’t have paid a billion dollars for it.

      Keep telling yourself that playing with a round ball against Irishmen constitutes an international.

      Keep embarrasing yourself chumpy.

      ronny jonny - I’m a league fan, I go to games, and being able to do the Cooper test in under 10 minutes I’m certainly not fat. Good luck with your generalisations.

      I guess AFL players and fans a are skinny little stringbeans who play a soft, talentless sport with no international backing, played in an isolated country like Australia. I guess only Victorian’s could come up with such a special little game.

    • Hugh Bris says:

      09:20am | 05/12/12

      Dream on Levi dream on— look at AFL players,beutifully built athelites,then look at NRL players; mostly overweight ,playing a game lacking in any skill whatsoever!!

    • Tim says:

      09:37am | 05/12/12

      Bill once again showing his complete ignorance of all things sporting.

      Why would John O’Neill or his temporary replacement Matt Carroll not know who the biggest players in Rugby are?

      Sometimes I think you’re actually a plant, AFL fans aren’t really this stupid are they?

    • Levi says:

      09:40am | 05/12/12

      Overweight? You must be dreaming. The vast majority are covered in muscle and are very powerfully built.

      George Rose, Sam Kasiano and Jamal Idris have a bit of pud on the mid section. But the Billy Slater’s and Jonathan Thurston’s of the world are stronger, faster, and more powerful than any AFL player you can name.

      The greatest claim to fame AFL has to producing “tough” players is Jonathan Brown getting his face smashed in constantly by falling on peoples knees.

    • Tim says:

      09:40am | 05/12/12

      Hugh of Bris,


      Is that like an Athlete without the added skill, size and sporting prowess?

      Yep, sounds like an AFL player all right.

    • Hugh Bris says:

      10:12am | 05/12/12

      Thank you Tim- that was very slack of me,i appologise!  As a person from a non rugby state,can somebody tell me the diffference between the 2 rugby codes ? I have often wondered….

    • Hugh Bris says:

      10:13am | 05/12/12

      Thank you Tim- that was very slack of me,i appologise!  As a person from a non rugby state,can somebody tell me the diffference between the 2 rugby codes ? I have often wondered….

    • Lance says:

      01:23pm | 05/12/12

      I for one have tried to get into AFL but simply don’t get it. I find it scrappy, hard to follow, messy, awkward to watch, and there is a sort of backyard feel to it.

      The problem with AFL being so popular in Australia is that it has cost us competency in sports which can be played on the international stage. Rugby Union and League less so, but sports like football (soccer) which are truly international have until recent times suffered from lack of funding and lack of time in the spotlight.

    • acotrel says:

      05:21am | 05/12/12

      I wonder why the Australian Institute of Sport nearly always panders to the controlling bodies in most sports ?  Surely they should play the role of arbitrator ? I was under the impression that most sporting clubs are affiliated as corporate entities, and their articles of association are based on a model which encourages democracy. Yet there are many instances where controlling bodies act as tax collecting corporations and deny democratic input from individual members, or simply ignore their views.

    • Toady says:

      04:18pm | 05/12/12

      Sounds like the trade union movement and the ALP.

    • Macca says:

      06:14am | 05/12/12

      The biggest challenge for the NRL is controlling / influencing the factions. The AFL distributes wealth unevenly to balance their growth plans. The NRL gets sucked into the selfish, me-tooism of the factions and clubs.
      Someone who is not from that culture may be well placed to deal with it. However, I suspect Smith’s naivety will see him come unstuck.

    • Al B says:

      10:26am | 05/12/12

      Best thing for the nrl from that standpoint would be to end the closed shop nature of the competition and allow for some competition for spots. Im suggesting something along the lines of a second division with competitive promotion and relegation.

      It would allow many regional areas the chance to play their way into the top flight of australiaan rugby league. Central coast, regional qld, other capitals like perth, even small teams like newtown, the illawarra could get their team back.

      Now they have to beg the nrl board and clubs for a spot…how about opening it up to an actual Sporting contest?

    • Frank says:

      06:32am | 05/12/12

      how bout you let the coaches deal with the sport side and you let the executives keep the business in order? you need to seperate them because if your too invested in the sport you arent going to allow reform and change that is needed to make it a profitable business…its not really that hard to work it out

    • Tubesteak says:

      06:56am | 05/12/12

      “After all, what grief did bankers ever cause in the world?”

      None. The pain was caused by the socialist parasites in government encouraging people to get home loans and creating the entities that have them the loans they couldn’t afford in an over-heated property market

      A CEO is meant to take care of the business as a whole. Details about rules are for the Chief Operating Officer. Details a out rivalries are for the Communications and Media Officer

      A CEO is not there to run around worrying about every little detail. That is for the chain of command

    • Roger says:

      07:53am | 05/12/12

      Anthony Sharwood has shown us he knows absolutely nothing about running a business.

    • Anthony Sharwood

      Anthony Sharwood says:

      09:20am | 05/12/12

      Well they do say that the way to write a decent story is to “show don’t tell”. But I’ll confirm your comment. I know absolutely nothing about running a business. But I remain unconvinced that this skill is the prime qualification for running an Australian sport whose “stakeholders”, to use that awful term, clearly want a person in charge who shares their passion

    • Rose says:

      09:43am | 05/12/12

      Roger, Ant is not claiming that he can run the NRL, or anything else for that matter. What he is saying is that the head honcho of the sport should love the sport, and I think he’s absolutely correct, sport is different to other industries because all the stakeholders are generally emotionally invested in the game. You discount, or fail to understand, that emotional investment and you run the risk of alienating the people who count the most, the fans.
      When you’re marketing and managing a sport you have to understand, share and harness the passion or the dollars will not come. The dollars will only come if the passion is nurtured and is encouraged to thrive though!

    • JoniM says:

      11:39am | 05/12/12

      Not sure what you are really worried about, Ant ?
      The NRL has just run itself without a CEO for the past year and included the negotiation of a $1b TV deal !
      Can’t see that apponiting a CEO now, no matter his background, is going to make one iota of difference, unless he is a total crook !
      I think you are just showing your love for investment bankers !
      Could have ben far worse, Ant !
      They could have gne back to their working class roots and appointed an out of work ex-ALP politician ? There’s a heap of those locals currently looking for a gig, once the Courts and ICAC are through with them !

    • Toady says:

      04:21pm | 05/12/12

      And how many of the incumbent federal government ministers are actually equipped with the business skills needed to run a national economy?  Zero.  Look where that’s getting us.  For the record, Andrew Demetriou, besides being a passionate AFL supporter and former VFL player, is a very accomplished businessman.  Both qualities are needed in sport.

    • Ricardo Jones says:

      09:22am | 05/12/12

      Ant, you praise David Gallop saying he was a fan of rugby league before he was CEO of the NRL, but then fail to mention he is now CEO of FFA (football), a sport in which he knows nothing about.

      I’m with you on the fact that a good CEO should know the ins and outs of their product and should always be passionate about it. However, there is a lot more to running a governing body than just being passionate about it.

      It would be ideal to find someone who is both passionate and has experience in business, but those people are not always easy to find.

      Look at football (soccer) in this country for along time it was driven by those who did so out of passion, and look at the results, by the end Soccer Australia was a mess. Now the FFA have taken over all you get is passionless corporate drivel about franchises.

      All we get from the FFA is nonsensical corporate speak, such as, key performance indicators, community engagement or my favourite when talking about franchises is; the philosophy of the club.

      There needs to be a happy medium.

      Most sporting CEO’s tend to be reactive rather than proactive. It is really the fans that drive the sport and its direction, if the fans aren’t happy and raise their voices the corporates usually listen (Unless it’s the AFL in which case they’ll fix the draw, change the rules and enrage everybody just because they can).

      How much credit do we give to CEO’s running our sporting codes? I think too much sometimes. Rugby League will be fine, its biggest issue along with AFL’s is player behaviour off the field, in which case you wonder if instead of a CEO they would have been better off hiring a prison warden to run the show (joke…..maybe).

    • Tim says:

      09:23am | 05/12/12

      Who Cares?

      I don’t get the requirement for an administrator to be a former player, current supporter?

      If he is a good administrator and CEO then who cares if he has a previous history with the sport? At least give the bloke a chance.

    • Kev says:

      01:24pm | 05/12/12

      I don’t get that either and I don’t understand this notion that one has to play the game to be able to coach it. Playing a game, coaching it and running the administration side of things require very different sets of skills.

    • Gary T says:

      09:23am | 05/12/12

      Both the NRL and Qantas could do a lot better

    • Punters Pal says:

      01:01pm | 05/12/12

      I agree, Gary. Joyce Bro will go down as an embarassing experiment in Australian corporate landscape.

    • FJ says:

      09:54am | 05/12/12

      Gallop wasn’t an Rugby League fan before he came CEO. He was just a lawyer.

      Gallop, Buckley and O’Neill weren’t Soccer fans and all three have now been FFA CEO. Why aren’t you bagging out Frank Lowy?

      Can someone please get rid of this Bill turnip?

      Stupid AFL troll ruins every Rugby League article with his delusions and idiocy.

    • Bill says:

      10:14am | 05/12/12

      I’ll assert my right to free speech and my right to express myself, if that’s ok with you FJ. If you don’t like differing opinions then don’t read them. Everything I’ve written is fact - if you disagree with something I’ve said then feel free to join the debate. But don’t try to silence someone just because you don’t like what they have to say.

      Harden up mate.

    • Ando says:

      01:36pm | 05/12/12

      Best to ignore him. He loves being feed.

    • Kate says:

      10:17am | 05/12/12

      Great piece Ant. Respect and the ability to inspire is lacking here. Sport is about passion. No matter what code or form that may be. Yes, numbers are important. But more so, is being able to get the community on board, earning their respect and bringing them with you.

    • Marty says:

      10:24am | 05/12/12

      What a load of crap postings. Sorry dick comparing AFL nobs this isn’t about your game. Click on another 12th vs 16th replays on Footy channel if you have nothing better to do. BTW how do AFL people still not understand that Rugby League and Rugby Union are two different games. Its like referring AFL as Netball on a regular basis. It just makes you sound like an ignorant provincial desperate navel gazer.

    • Toady says:

      04:27pm | 05/12/12

      Marty just summed up what it is to be your average bogan NRL supporter.  Insults, generalisations, spelling errors.  Not too many thinkers among NRL ranks.  I enjoy watching NRL on tv, but will probably never go and see a live game.  Most supporters I know (in Queensland) like watching it to see punch-ons.  Still living in the 70’s and 80’s.

    • Nick says:

      10:37am | 05/12/12

      Why does “Mr AFL” Bill feel the need to embark on a game of one-upmanship? However, since he has, I think I’ll do the same… AFL is the most popular by which measure? Football aka soccer has the largest participation base of any sport in Australia. So, it’s arguable that it’s the most popular sport in Australia.  But does it really matter? Not really, if you enjoy playing / watching a sport, then that’s great. Enjoy.

    • Ken Oath says:

      10:55am | 05/12/12

      AFL: A 2 hour knock-on where you get a point if you miss! My grandmother tackles hard harder than those tight short wearing cream puffs. They would last 5 minutes on league field!

    • Kev says:

      01:21pm | 05/12/12

      That’s assuming a league player could catch an AFL player. NRL players don’t have the endurance that AFL players are required to have.

    • JoniM says:

      02:13pm | 05/12/12

      Fair dinkum , Kev !
      After 2 decent rugby league tackles that AFL endurance will be dripping down their legs !
      The AFL’S only chance to compete against an NRL team would be to implement their cowardly king hits from behind, before the game starts !

    • Toady says:

      04:30pm | 05/12/12

      Ask Karmichael Hunt what he thinks about AFL.  I have a lot of respect for him, as he has turned into a pretty handy AFL player.  Folau proved that the average NRL player just hasn’t got the brains to play the sport.

    • FJ says:

      10:59am | 05/12/12

      Bill, you wouldn’t know a fact if it hit you in the face. All you know is how paranoid you are of Rugby League and the only way you can convince yourself that AFL is somehow better is by commenting all day on Rugby League articles.

      AFL will always be behind Rugby League and it’s time you learnt to live with that.

    • Bear says:

      11:42am | 05/12/12

      Behind rugby league? what planet are you on? That insular Sydney one that pats itself on the back constantly and thinks it’s the business when in reality it’s an irrelevant backwater. Your top players barely top 100k while AFL players top a mil. Never know, The NSWRL may grow up one day but I doubt it.

    • Kev says:

      01:29pm | 05/12/12

      You’re right. Apart from attendances, club memberships, revenue and the number of teams across the country the AFL is way behind the NRL.

    • Murray says:

      03:20pm | 05/12/12

      FJ, a few reasons why AFL is NOT paranoid about Rugby League.

      1) RL has a history of clubs folding yet they still talk about “expansion”. RL has a short term memory and conveniently forget about the clubs they have closed down. Last 25 years - Perth, Adelaide, Illawarra, Wests, Newtown, North Sydney, South Sydney, Hunter, Seagulls, Giants, Gladiators, Crushers - have I forgotton any?

      2) RL’s embarrassing claim to having “international” football. The “World Cup” featuring countries that don’t have a competition and are filled with Aussie park players. Russia, Georgia, Netherlands, Serbia,  Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Lebanon, Russia, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, United States, etc. Your World Cup is a pathetic joke. So it’s a case “Hey, I’ve played RL and my grandma is from Lebanon so I’ll play for the Lebanese team”.

      I like both games, but really RL could learn a hell of a lot by studying AFL.


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