Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Innocent Until Proven Guilty, But Suspension Is Still The Right Step

The news that Greg Inglis has been charged by police over an alleged assault against his girlfriend brings Rugby League back into the headlines for reasons that have nothing to do with football at a time when the focus should be on the lead up to the finals. While the real issue is the question of domestic violence and the behavior of both men and women in relationships, the inescapable fact is that on this occasion the allegations involve a sporting celebrity which guarantees front page coverage. It also guarantees the questions about the behaviour of Rugby League players, and the potential damage to the image of the sport.

It has been said that if it was anybody else the story would not be front page news, and while that is true, it is also irrelevant. Whenever anybody is successful in a public arena, and is both well paid and much admired for that success, there is also an added responsibility of being seen as a role model whether you want to be or not. It isn’t something that you can choose, it is something that happens to you. It is then up to the individual to either accept that responsibility, or to ignore it. Either way, there will be consequences.

One of the consequences of such adverse incidents is that it does reflect poorly on the image of the sport as a whole. When there is a series of incidents, even unproven allegations, it further leads to questions over whether there is something fundamentally wrong with the culture of the sport, or its administration, or some other intrinsic defect. And there are commercial consequences, with the possibility of losing support from both fans and sponsors. That’s why the administrators, both at the club level and at the NRL level must be seen to deal with such matters effectively.

But that is the challenge. What is the right and effective way for managers to address the issue, especially considering that the primary consideration should be for protecting women from violence, not just protecting the image of the game? In this case, Melbourne Storm C.E.O. Brian Waldren has won praise for acting quickly to suspend Greg Inglis, but even that is not without controversy. Some are asking why the presumption of innocence shouldn’t apply, and Greg Inglis be allowed to continue playing until such time as he has his day in court. And that’s a fair question.

Once again however, it comes down to the added responsibility that comes with public admiration, whether you like it or not. Remember, he has only been suspended, not sacked. He still has his contract, and his livelihood is not going to be threatened by any action that the Melbourne Storm have taken. Surely any such impact on his longer term prospects would hang on the outcome of the police investigation and the hearing in court. He is still innocent until proven guilty, but it is also in the best interests of the game and the club that he, or any other player caught up in such a controversy, step aside to sort it out.

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