Nicholas Hartman isn’t your typical Aussie bloke. In fact, for him football, in particular Rugby League, brings out the very worst in society.

I wish Rugby League would go and die. This isn’t solely because I dislike the game. Despite supporting it fervently while growing up, the way rugby league presents itself and is administered has done it no favours.

I believe that in its various heartlands, rugby league is a regressive force for society.

While not a problem exclusive to rugby league, the litany of reckless and criminal off-field indiscretions of its athletes has cast an exceptional pall on the game.  Almost every week, it seems, there is another report of a physical or sexual assault committed by a player obscenely drunk at 4am on a Sunday morning. There are arguments to be made that their misdemeanours are magnified by gossip-media scrutiny, but the fact remains that in other sports, such as cricket, rugby union or soccer, transgressions made by players are fewer in number and more effectively dealt with.

For example, when Sebastian Ryall was facing charges of intercourse with a minor, he was immediately stood down by the FFA for bringing the game into disrepute. He was later acquitted, but he had already damaged reputations and the decision to sanction him before his hearing was a sound one that sent a resounding message.

The NRL, meanwhile, faff about and seem to have no clear idea of how to curb this culture – even their coaches (eg Mal Meninga) are falling into the same holes as the players. And it’s not just the players’ off-field behaviour, but their on-field actions too. Paul Gallen’s punch on Nate Myles in the first Origin game (and for which Gallen wasn’t punished at the time) was well publicised, as was the fallout from the decisions subsequently taken by the NRL.

In response to derisory howls that followed, the NRL decided to turn all fighting into sin-bin-able offences. Such a stance has already been well-established in other sports, such as ice hockey, gridiron and soccer. However, derisory howls were heard from the rugby league establishment (rather notably including Paul Gallen), outraged at the NRL’s decision to crackdown on fisticuffs. Gallen argued that he found it perturbing (I’m paraphrasing, no footballer would use that word) and hypocritical that he was punished for fighting, something the game’s body uses to build hype for the Origin. Gallen’s point is fair, but it leaves me incredulous that it came from his mouth. He earns a living playing sport, funded to incredible levels by several commercial interests; it isn’t in their interest for them to be associated with violence, and when he acts childishly in front of the nation’s eyes, it suddenly isn’t his fault.

The above example is but one of rugby league’s several failures to adapt to the modern world. As you might have seen in the debates during the time the Gillard government was trying to pass pokies reform, rugby league clubs have a very large attachment to poker machines. Well, some might say attachment, others might say dependence. Every NRL team is financially supported by its own leagues club  (i.e. a community club similar to an RSL), and many of those clubs rely heavily on the profit of poker machines. Hence the scenes last year when during a telecast the commentators pretended to negatively discuss the implications of the proposed pokies reforms ad-lib, only for them to later fess-up that it was a planned discussion with backing from the network and the clubs association. Contrast this to the response by the AFL, with CEO Andrew Demetriou supporting changes to poker machine regulations.

Despite being in the 21st century, rugby league is somewhere in the distant past, lagging behind everyone else. Their players and coaches still act incredibly irresponsibly, either brush such behaviour off or deny it when it happens, and still rely on the profits of gambling machines designed to seduce and then rip-off their customers. In its heartlands of NSW and Queensland, rugby league as the dominant sport dominates news discussion. Its policies, management and culture are regressive, and thus it’s dragging Australian society behind.

Rugby league, it’s time to grow up or die off.


Illustration by Danielle Tam

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