A childish view of Melbourne Storm


Melbourne Storm fansWhen I first heard of the Melbourne Storm tragedy, I laughed. It was a great story: one to be enjoyed, but not taken too seriously. But I was soon told that my attitude was childish, and that the events mattered very much. So I was forced to examine my conscience.

I recognised that my attitudes to games had indeed remained stuck in an ill-spent childhood in which a little cheating was part of playing games. Calling your opponent's serves out when they were just in, moving inconveniently placed golf balls slightly so you could have a decent whack at them, and failing to follow suit in cards when advantageous were devices not unknown. And as you did, so you were done unto.

Even now, I confess, I enjoy stories of cheating done in style. Tales of ringing in horses on country tracks, putting a block of ice on the pitch the night before the opposing team bats, or nobbling the goal umpire in a footy final always bear retelling.

I suppose it is a sign of a childish attitude that I am not only indulgent to cheating, but also approve heartily of the retribution exacted by the NRL on the Melbourne Storm. For a child it is important that when cheating is discovered it should be sanctioned. Unless the rules of games are strongly affirmed and cheating is heavily penalised, there is not much point in cheating.

Children are also partisan in their judgments. So my insouciance about the dark doings and retributions at Melbourne Storm may not be unconnected with distaste at having to read about a Melbourne rugby league club in Melbourne newspapers. My wistful regret that the AFL did not strip Carlton of a couple of premierships when they had the chance may also be used as evidence of immature judgment.

Convinced that my initial views were indeed childish, I asked those of patently mature judgment why the Storm affair mattered so much. The first response was that rugby league and the Storm's place in it were significant in the Australian economy. It was not simply a game but a money-making business, and money mattered.

How could any serious minded person argue with that? But I raised a difficulty. It lay in the heavy financial penalty levelled on the Storm. That might have been appropriate when something less significant was at stake, but not in the case of something that mattered, like money.

I noted that in the week that the Storm story broke, there had been many business stories. They included the rorting by companies of the insulation scheme, bribes paid by miners in Cambodia, a minimal sentence given to an inside trader, and the general confidence expressed that Goldmann Sachs or any other firm whose practices had contributed to the GFC has little to fear from mere charges of fraud.

Where money is at stake, it seemed, it is the business of regulators to avert their eyes and encourage successful moneymakers to pursue their craft with more abandon. So how could my interlocutors justify imposing such heavy financial penalties on Melbourne Storm for adopting practices that built the club into a formidable money making enterprise?

One person of mature judgment murmured that if serious money was threatened the penalties would be modified.

But others said that the affair was serious because people also mattered. I should have had some fellow feeling for all the innocent players at Melbourne Storm, their families and friends, the supporters who found meaning in the club, especially the children, who look to their sport to learn their moral code, and idolise their players and their club. As they contemplated premierships becoming virtual but not virtuous, a reality with no medals and medals with no reality, and an idolised club with feet of sodden bank notes, they would be devastated. Their sense of purpose and trust in the moral universe would be eroded.

I contemplated this devastating outcome in silence. But then I wondered aloud whether it was not a little condescending to encourage people to keep these apparently childish attitudes. If people matter, should we protect them from the grief that comes when they realise that Santa doesn't exist, that their parents and clubs they idolise are not perfect, and that love is vulnerable to betrayal and death? Should they never be confronted with the invitation 'to strive and not to seek reward', to see virtue as its own reward, and to recognise that money doesn't matter all that much?

The people of mature judgment looked at me with distaste. 'But if they cease to be childish,' they said, 'how could you ever monetise them?'

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

Topic tags: andrew hamilton, melbourne storm, salary cap, ruggy league, cheating, goldmann sachs



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More 'Fairy Floss' from Andrew. Twice in a week. First we had to feel sorry for that scumbag Carl Williams and now for people who are absolutely dishonest. Does Andrew really know what he's on about?

philip | 29 April 2010  

Beautifully and poignantly expressed. Perhaps Goldman Sachs should be fined $1 billion and the money given to Storm so it can afford its players, thereby serving both justice (GS) and mercy (Storm).

Barney | 29 April 2010  

What is it about Australians and sport?
Our greatest horse race, The Melbourne Cup, is a handicap. The skullduggery that goes on to get under the handicapper's scrutiny is gossip around the tracks for months before the race. But the handicap is meant to be a burdern for the champions and an advantage for the chaff bandits so as to make a more interesting race.

The Salary Cap for Rugby League is a sort of handicap system. And ever since it was introduced the gossip around the clubs was how did such and such a club afford three or four players who if they were paid market price for their brilliant talents would burst through the Cap on their own, let alone the other 20 average players on the playing list.

Will we ever get away from this handicapping mentality?
Soccer, cricket and golf let the sports market rip.
Why can't we let that happen with Rugby League?

Uncle Pat | 29 April 2010  

I have read Andrew's story about the Storm affair with mixed feelings. It's reassuring that he doesn't take games too seriously. On the other hand it is sad - and dangerous - that the current over-emphasis on winning (sometimes involving brutality) that is now part of top-level sport is a poison that has trickled down through all levels, infecting the youngest participants and many of their parents.

The emphasis should be on enjoyment of the game for those playing and watching, whoever wins.

Bob Corcoran | 29 April 2010  

I have done my level best to understand this article by Andrew Hamilton. OK I've only read it once. One paragraph stands out for me as being largely incomprehensible.

Namely :
" I suppose it is a sign of a childish attitude that I am not only indulgent to cheating, but also approve heartily of the retribution exacted by the NRL on the Melbourne Storm.[ Well that is clear I guess although I'd disagree: broadly speaking, children have a very strong sense of fairness & justice & decency- in my experience anyway].

" For a child it is important that when cheating is discovered it should be sanctioned". What does that mean?

" Unless the rules of games are strongly affirmed and cheating is heavily penalised, there is not much point in cheating". What does that mean ?
Anyone out there willing to explain these items to l'il ole me ?


It is a great disappointment to learn that readers of ES do not understand irony.

Frank | 29 April 2010  

those of patently mature judgment ... didn't speak of 'virtue' or honour ... so how, in God's name do they qualify as having a mature judgment ... do you really know what you are talking about?

Greig Williams | 29 April 2010  

Thanks Andrew,

I like your acceptance that a little cheating is normal even fun but agree with the tenor of your article.

What has happened to sport in these days of it becoming big business?

jean Sietzema-Dickso | 29 April 2010  

Don't you get it Philip? Hamilton isn't telling us how to feel. In the Williams piece, he's not even talking about Williams. He's talking about us and the way we respond to someone like Williams and what that says about us. And about the Storm, he's not really talking about them or Rugby League. He's indulging in a bit of whimsy, and in a self-deprecating way, over the double standards that rock around our culture (that's us) without so much as a moment's notice.

Mick | 29 April 2010  

Should they never be confronted with the invitation 'to strive and not to seek reward'

Well in that case Andrew you should be well pleased with the way Melbourne Storm played last week. A brilliant performance with nothing to win for.

Yes, it does seem that virtue is its own reward in this woefully mishandled dumbed down morality tale of rorting, when the NRL is pleased to drag the stronger Storm down to a weaker level in order to make the game more equal on their own terms and therefore "fairer" for all teams.

Nathan Socci | 29 April 2010  

Another interesting and controversial article. My first impression was that it was satire and specificly irony or sarcasm. The real issues are the overreaction by the mainstream media with either ill-informed, irrational or illogical comments and the common moral and ethical code of Australian people and business being that the end justifies the means.

Mark Doyle | 29 April 2010  

Andrew's story makes me consider the pernicious influence that News Ltd exerts on everything it touches. Melbourne has two examples, the first being the Storm scandal.

But the second is worse. 18 months ago Melbourne had a decent tabloid newspaper, the Herald Sun. Sure, it wasn't an intellectual's delight but it was part of Melbourne. Then News Ltd sacked the editor and the paper has been outrageously bad ever since.

Why ever did Paul Keating allow Murdoch to take over the Herald? Well, we all know it was for naked political gain, but it is still a disgrace that it happened.

Caxton | 29 April 2010  

Grow up! No wonder the clerics get away with unacceptable behaviour while awarding penalties to the laity.

bsmith | 29 April 2010  

Bravo , Bravo Andrew...We DO need to have a laugh...once again our navity has caught us out....Once big money gets involved in a sport ethics and integrity go out the window!When will we ever learn?

Gavin | 29 April 2010  

I enjoyed the first part of your article about your own history of cheating. From a New Zealand view point we fully understand this - don't be too hard on yourself Andrew. We believe cheating at sports is part of your DNA as an Australian. It is one of the things we love about you as a people - you always make us feel so morally superior. Best wishes - may all your balls be under-arm.

John Young | 30 April 2010  


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