There’s more to this Storm front than meets the eye
Everyone’s blaming the suits and an assortment of guys with big fancy calculators for the revelations of the Melbourne Storm’s $1.7 million salary cap breaches, which has seen them stripped of two NRL premierships, three minor premierships and a bunch of prize money which they must repay.
And yes, clearly the chief bad guys here are the engineers of the intricate system of book-fudging which has deceived NRL auditors for the best part of five years. But this isn’t a problem like the Murray River, where the problem of the muddy, salty brine downstream can be pinned entirely on the greedy, negligent vandals upstream.
There are others who might consider themselves lucky not to be implicated, and there are broader issues at play which allowed these sneaks to think they could get away with their cheating shenanigans. Here’s a selection:
The players: David Gallop effectively exonerated the Storm players of any wrongdoing at yesterday’s presser.
And coach Craig Bellamy said it’s all just a huge shock to both himself and his players. Righto, fine. But surely, some of the Storm’s stars must have had an inkling they were being paid extremely handsomely, especially in a team with so many stars and so much silverware.
The NRL cap is just $4.1 million, spread between a club’s top 25 players. That’s an average of $164,000 per player. So if you’re receiving annual payments above a certain level you don’t have to be even a distant relative of Einstein to work out you’re on a great wicket.
The Salary Cap itself: Love the cap – in principle. It’s equalising effect is the reason eight different NRL teams jogged a victory lap in the noughties.
In yesterday’s presser, David Gallop said this was not the time to talk about the cap. Nice try, Dave, but it is. The problem with the NRL Salary Cap is not that it’s too low. If it were much more than $4.1 million, the game would be bankrupted, as rugby league treads a fine financial line at the best of times.
But the cap is too inflexible. All sorts of measures need to be brought in that would make allowances for things like player loyalty and family links. So if your dad played for the club, or if you’ve been there eight years or more, your club could get salary cap concessions.
These might only add up to a few hundred thousand dollars a year, but it would be enough to keep the game solvent, and allow successful clubs to keep superstars without cheating.
Sport’s professional era: How ironic. How very ironic that on the day Juan Antonio Samaranch dies, this story unfolds. Samaranch, you’ll recall, was the IOC president who removed the last pretensions of amateurism in the Olympic movement.
This was actually one of his meaningful legacies, as it cleared up a huge, shambolic mess. But it meant that virtually all big-time sport in virtually all countries was now interlinked with big bucks.
Not saying this is an inherently bad thing. But I am saying that the combination of sport and money inevitably lead to outbreaks of Storm-type corruption.
The people of Melbourne: Bit of a long bow here, but if the AFL-obsessed citizens of Australia’s self-professed sporting capital had taken their champion rugby league team to heart, and actually paid them a bit of attention, the potential for legitimate second-party deals might have nipped this whole evil scheme of under-the-table payments in the bud. Just a theory.
The devil: Gods cops a rap for so many of sport’s uplifting moments, we can only assume the other guy is behind this one. As the NRL auditors will tell you, he was last spotted lurking in the detail.
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