Our football codes need an off-field code of conduct
On Saturday night, Robert Lui will take the field for the North Queensland Cowboys, even though his previous NRL club, the Wests Tigers, tore his contract up.
Late last season, Lui was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He’ll appear in court on March 21.
Like any person with a matter before the courts, Lui is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But that doesn’t mean the sporting code which registers him should be powerless to intervene in his affairs.
The period between a player being charged for any kind of offence and their day in court is always a grey area for sports administrators. As things stand now, player behaviour issues are first dealt with by clubs, and the NRL only steps in on extremely rare occasions.
Like other Australian sporting codes, the NRL has no off-field personal conduct policy which mirrors its judiciary system for onfield offences. But America’s NFL does.
In part, it states: “as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.”
At this year’s NRL All Stars game, the issue of appropriate off-field behaviour was addressed by indigenous leader Florence Onus, chair of the Healing Foundation. In a speech to 25,000 flag-waving football fans, Ms Onus said:
“Throughout Australia, the biggest issue impacting our nation today is family violence. Our partnership with the NRL is about taking the healing message to our communities.”
The Punch contacted Ms Onus and asked her how she feels about Robert Lui playing this weekend while his matter is still before the courts.
“It is sending the wrong message to the community, particularly young people,” she said.
Ms Onus tells a good yarn of a rugby league club in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Normanton Steelers. Their motto is “domestic violence is not our game”, and they have a policy whereby you are suspended from the club if you commit an act of domestic violence. Two strikes and you’re out for good.
“That’s a really good example of a local club setting a really clear example to the community that if you do have an issue around domestic violence, you need to have that addressed.”
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