Sporting bosses who betray fans and fair play
Anyone with a few cells of sporting spirit in their body feel them tingling with rage at how Melbourne Storm officials conducted themselves in breaching the salary cap by an obscene $3.17 million.
When the Storm was steamrolling teams week after week in the NRL, it wasn’t just because they had good players, or were well coached. It was because they were being run by a small group of cheats with no respect for the simple principle of fair play.
This group of five managers identified at the centre of the rort indulged the worst of the morally bankrupt philosophy of winning at any cost that is increasingly a feature of professional sports, not just NRL.
Being stripped of two premierships and playing for essentially nothing this season has been a terrible penalty for the Storm’s players and fans to suffer.
But that this penalty was the subject of a legal challenge by the club’s independent directors, who have now been removed from the board, was astounding.
What is so hard to understand about the necessity of harsh punishment for what went on?
The premierships were stripped when the full extent to which the club had been giving fair play the middle finger was not yet known. Today’s revelations, which you can read about in detail here, underline the hubris of the board’s protesting faction.
It has emerged managers at the club engaged in a $3.2 million up-yours to the fans who enjoy the game and to players in other clubs who had to run out against the Storm’s formidable line-up. The club was on track to breach the salary cap by over $1 million next year.
Five people were named in the report as being involved: Brian Waldron and Matt Hanson, former chief financial officer Paul Gregory, former recruiter Peter O’Sullivan and another former financial official, Cameron Vale.
How telling is it that only one of these men – Vale – agreed to be interviewed?
The independent directors, Dr Rob Moodie, Petra Fawcett, Peter Maher and Gerry Ryan, were removed from the board this morning by the Storm’s owner, News Ltd (which also owns The Punch).
The under-the-counter payments were a breathtaking breach of the faith that the club’s supporters bestowed on these people. But for anyone who enjoys a good contest in any code, it underlined that people who run some clubs see fairness and a level playing field as somehow quaint notions in this age of sporting celebrity, multi-million-dollar sponsorships, TV rights and ratings successes.
Israel Folau defects to AFL but gets picked by Queensland selectors in a panic about the Origin series.
Lote Tuqiri – an unquestionable talent – gets hired by Wests Tigers after leaving rugby union under a cloud.
The AFL openly talks about how players jack themselves up on caffeine before a game and use sleeping pills to come down after a match. A trip to intensive care by Ben Cousins, who has a known history of substance abuse problems, is dismissed as a silly mistake. Queue soothing noises from doctors about “looking into” how players use cocktails of uppers and downers on game day.
You cannot look at the peloton on the Tour de France without wondering how many of them haven’t been taking something illegal.
Wanting to win is natural but the behaviour of administrators and managers in many sports too often conflicts with basic notions of fair play.
Sports fans who hand over their cash for membership and merchandise, dutifully tune in to the matches on TV, idolise players and hold them up as role models for their kids have a right to expect their club will be run decently and in the right spirit.
Today is another day of shame for the management of the Melbourne Storm. But sports fans everywhere will be dismayed, not just by the obscenity of what happened but by the niggling suspicion that the culture of disregard for simple sporting ethics is not isolated to officials at that club. Fans want - and are entitled to expect - better.
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