Melbourne Storm crisis will save rugby league’s soul
In our shock, it is so easy to think of yesterday as a black and terrible day for Australian sport.
In that we discovered one of our sporting teams cheated and deceived it was – but in time, yesterday will be remembered as the day Rugby League regained its soul.
It will be remembered as the day that David Gallop and the Board of the NRL decided they would rather fold their tent than tolerate cheating in their ranks. It’s the day when a major Australian sport said that the values on which it was founded was more important than the corporate support and the enterprises that fund it.
Whilst the cunning and calculated greed of the Storm’s management is stunning, in the cool light of day, we saw the leaders of Australia’s premier football code front the public, expose the wrongdoing and demonstrate everything that we hope and expect from our leaders. How refreshing.
After a decade when fans so many times questioned the code and its values because of the indiscretions and misbehaviour of its stars, yesterday we saw good old fashioned leadership and integrity re-assert itself as the governing force of the game.
Who would have thought that Rugby League would risk its very existence in the second largest Australian city because it believes the values of fair play were more important than the very competition it runs?
I suspect throughout Melbourne last night there were thousands of parents having difficult conversations with young children trying to explain how their heroes broke trust. I have no doubt there were tears and the decision of Storm fans to take back their jerseys represent one of the most authentic moments in sport I have seen in my lifetime. Maybe to be only surpassed when the players themselves add their own cherished premiership rings to that discarded pile of rubbish.
Yet though the shock, there is also clarity that will ensure the day is remembered for all the right reasons. It is the clarity that saw the leaders of rugby league act in a way that truly reflected the values of sport– they reminded us to show courage, to play by the rules, to confront wrongdoing and to play by the spirit of the game. David Gallop didn’t cover it up, he didn’t try to spin, he didn’t hide behind an inquiry or taskforce, he simply fronted the public and faced the consequences.
At this point, some will try and rationalise what has happened and argue that the NRL needs to introduce new rules, new safeguards and measures to ensure this never happens again. However those calls miss the point, those that cheated sought to break the existing rules and they have no respect for rules.
As a Sea Eagles fan it would be easy for me to say, like any Parramatta fan, hand us our premierships, but I don’t think we want the Storm’s tarnished trophy. In fact, we got something better than a tarnished premiership yesterday, for in the decision to put an asterisks next to the Premierships of 2007 and 2009, we have a reminder for all time that the values of rugby league are not for sale. In every sense, every rugby league fan that had wondered about the increasing professionalism and corporatisation of sport got their game back yesterday. We discovered that rugby league would rather be sold and close up shop then sell its values. We got back a competition that in every sense represents the very best of sport. Indeed it represents the best of Australia.
Will the Storm survive? Who knows? The real answer lies with the fans and if they are willing to forgive this breach of trust. The Bulldogs fans forgave their team after 2002, so there’s hope, but trust needs to regained. Maybe Gallop’s decision to make the Storm play for honour only this year and no points is the way for the team to regain its pride and to experience redemption.
Whether the Storm survives or not, I have no doubt yesterday will be an enduring day in the history of rugby league. For yesterday, after a hiatus that began in the courtrooms of Phillip Street back in 1996, the game of rugby league re-established itself not just as one of the beacons of Australian sport, but Australian life. Rugby league has reclaimed and regained its soul.
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