Off the Wall

It was entirely predictable that the official end of season NRL response to players behaving badly during the 2009 season would be to give more powers to the clubs over off field disciplinary issues.

In other words, a system which has not worked is going to be expanded even further.

Obviously in the hope that it will work better if it is? That is the only conclusion one can draw from the comments by David Gallop yesterday.

The clubs will applaud his action - or his inaction. And so will the players and the player managers.

But is that really in the best interests of the game?

I guess we won't know until next season. But what we do know is that leaving responsibility for serious off field issues has not worked - either as a deterrent, or as a means of preventing incidents causing untold damage to the game's image.

The views of an increasing number of coaches, and former leading players, have been dismissed out of hand.

We are no closer to an independent investigator to quickly examine serious allegations that threaten to bring the game into disrepute than we have ever been. And the latest prop to justify the existing process is a blow in from the USA who is an official of the NFL!

The final acquittal of Greg Bird yesterday ought to remind the NRL just how hopelessly the Cronulla Sharks administration performed when the incident that led to Bird being charged more than a year ago.

And how the ARL "handled" matters when he was put in handcuffs after an incident during the 2008 State of Origin series...an incident which, if handled better at the beginning might not have got Greg Bird into worse trouble a few months later.

This head in the sand approach to off field issues is not just the fault of the NRL. The majority of clubs are more than happy to go along with a system they control.

In the process there seems to be no recognition of what off field issues cause the game so much harm. It is not just the incidents - it is how they are investigated that is as much a problem if not a greater problem.

While clubs take their time to investigate allegations, the media can have a field day with them. If they were addressed more speedily through an independent process the damage might be minimised.

In the coming months a significantly more important issue will be focussed on by the game's administrators - ending the dual administration system.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that a unified administrative structure would benefit the game at every level, on the basis of what has happened with regard to handling off field behaviour issues, one cannot be confident that "vested interests" and "protected species" won't intervene again.

On both counts the vested interests win, and the good of the game loses!

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