Friday, April 23, 2010

Every Dark Cloud…

They say that every dark cloud has a silver lining, although the huge cloud which has descended over Rugby League as a result of the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal threatens to wreak more damage than any other incident in a sport which has never been short of controversy. Not only does it bring into question the future of the Melbourne franchise, it also raises questions about the probity of all the clubs, about the administrative structure of the competition, and about the salary cap system itself. Perhaps most importantly of all, it raises questions about the duty towards the fans and supporters of the game to act honestly and to play fairly.

One of the greatest things about sport is its ability to bring people together, to strengthen communities, to promote the ideals of teamwork and mateship, while at the same time offering the opportunity for individuals to test the limits of their talents, to achieve greatness, and to become examples and role models to others in the community. To be, in a word, heroes. And now this. The disappointment for fans is overwhelming, and although it might be a bit old fashioned and even a bit naïve, I would like to think that players, clubs, and managers have some sort of obligation to the fans who are after all the people who buy the tickets and spend the money that makes it all possible.

For that reason, the recent discussions about restructuring the administration of the competition so that it is run by an independent commission are now more relevant than ever. There has always been an ethical dilemma around the idea that a team can be owned by a corporation which also owns a half share in the competition itself, along with a major chunk of the media which covers the game. While that in itself isn’t to blame for the salary cap fraud, it has never been an ideal way to run the competition.

Now is the time to seize the opportunity to reshape the administration of the game, starting with an independent commission. Now is also the time to revisit the operation of the salary cap system, which is obviously intended to ensure that less wealthy clubs have the opportunity to remain competitive. Unfortunately, it would seem that all it has achieved is to drive the money out of sight and under the table. It is clear that the present arrangements are not working as they are intended, and now is the time to consider either a player draft, or some other alternative.

If there is a silver lining in this very dark Storm cloud, it is that. It is the opportunity to restructure, reform, and reinvigorate the administration of what is supposed to be “the greatest game of all”.

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