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Storm blows Anzac values


Melbourne Storm fallout, League's Darkest Hour, The Daily TelegraphThe salary cap in sport is one of the last remnants of Australian egalitarianism, and this is one of the reasons why the Melbourne Storm's behaviour is so offensive. The Storm's salary cap breach is much more than an accounting deception and a betrayal of the other clubs, players and the public. Because it is so systematic, and stretches back so long, it is an offence against one of the values that Australians hold so dear, especially at Anzac Day: a fair go.

As a nation that has historically used sport to punch above its political weight, Australians are acutely aware of the inherent advantages that larger, wealthier countries enjoy in sport. That awareness is expressed through the salary cap: let everyone have a chance based on skill, not money.

Almost alone among the world's great sporting societies, Australian domestic competitions accept the idea that there needs to be a limit to the amount of money clubs can pay to players. The NRL (league), AFL (Aussie Rules) and FFA (football) have accepted and prided themselves on this fairness principle. It allows different clubs to prosper, rewards innovative coaching, and helps the code stay less predictable — all crucial elements to credibility and popularity.

The salary cap is a regulation to keep the playing field as level as possible, a mechanism to promote competition and avoid the problem afflicting sport in Europe and America: in the northern hemisphere a rich businessman or consortium buys a club as a trophy and uses their fortune to buy all the good players, such as Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich has done with Chelsea football club in England.

The Storm may weather the financial fallout from this scandal. It may survive and continue within the NRL, although it faces enormous hurdles with a new stadium almost finished and little prospect of filling it for the rest of this season.

The greater problem is the moral stain, which will be exacerbated by the fact that it's in Victoria, the Aussie Rules heartland. It took several years for Melbourne Storm to build up a following; every fan who walks through a turnstile has been weaned away from Australian football. All the more so because Rugby League is a Sydney game, which makes it the game of the enemy to most Victorians.

Those supporters will now reassess what the club actually means to them as Victorians. Will they want to continue supporting a club that has consistently cheated its way to the premiership, in a code that is foreign to them? It is hard to see any Rugby League fan, north or south of the border, feel ongoing loyalty to the Melbourne colony.

In the Rugby League family, the Storm has become, overnight, a source of universal shame. Every player, coach and official will be tainted with the unspoken doubt: Did they know? Did they do anything about it? Did they turn a blind eye?

Already, other clubs and regions have put up their hand to replace the Storm within the competition. That is slightly premature and dancing on a grave that has not yet been opened, let alone closed.

But the systematic nature of the deceit and the severity of the NRL punishment indicates the depth of outrage felt by administrators, and the example they want to show. The logic is brutal: the Storm stole the past from the other clubs; the NRL has now ruined its future.

The larger picture is that modern sport is in a period of transition: from a game that was run by ex-players and saw itself as a self-enclosed world, to a business governed by modern commercial laws and judged by wider social ethics. Holding all of this together is the principle of social trust in the institution of sport, just as the recent GFC highlighted the importance of our capacity to trust financial institutions.

The Storm breached everyone's trust and has lost the most important asset of all: goodwill. Sport is popular because the public has innate goodwill towards sports figures. They forgive individuals their mistakes because of that goodwill. Matthew Johns' rehabilitation is an obvious example.

Johns' return started when he faced the music after the group sex scandal, went on TV and showed the public his remorse. Now the Storm, like the Catholic Church, has to demonstrate its remorse. The question is: will anyone be watching?


Michael VisontayMichael Visontay is Editor-In-Chief of CathNews and lectures in Sport, Media and Culture at the University of NSW.

Topic tags: Michael Visontay, Melbourne Storm, salary cap, cheating, premierships, rugby league



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Existing comments

I am continually distressed by sporting commentators coaches and follows-some- who equate sport with war with the headline and thrust of the article that suggests what has occurred at the Storm equates some how with young soldiers killing and being slaughtered.

War is not under any circumstances an appropriate analogy for Sport.There is nothing of a "fair go" in War. Sport in Australia such as the AFL, NRL Ruby or ASF are nothing other than big business and like all business are open to fraud at times.Such articles as the one above does nothing to help understand the hideous nature of War nor the current situation of professional sport.And further it is not the Storm that parallels the Church if want to draw such an analogy but the NRL

Jim Quinn | 23 April 2010  

Sorry Mr. Visontay but I reckon you are way off the mark relating the Storm to the "Anzac value" of a "fair go". We should all understand that the Anzac Gallipoli landing of 1915 was a mistake of the highest order. We allowed the pride of Australia to die for an empire and monarch far away at the orders of incompetent English army officers.

The so called "fair go" value was more correctly developed in the Australian bush in the 1880's and our emerging sense at that time of being "Australians".
In my view we have collectively misappropriated the whole Anzac issue with our sense of nationality.
For other mistakes too (the recent illegal invasion of Iraq, as a sovereign state), we should hang our head in shame on Anzac Day, as to how we could allow our leaders to send our young men to a premature end and resolve not to let it happen again.

Finally the idea of linking (so called) Aussie egalitarianism with the very notion of the salary cap is nonsensical. Cap or not, what is fair or egalitarian about a young man receiving a 6 or 7 figure pay packet for playing sport?

F. Patrick | 23 April 2010  

Sorry, I can't agree. The only relationship the Storm fiasco has with Anzac is that it broke 3 days before the anniversary. Any other interpretation is stretching a long bow.

Australian sport does not need a salary cap to be notionally egalitarian. It was long before a cap was ever conceptualised and will be whether a salary cap is scrapped or massively increased. It is the style of how Australians play and approach sport that is the key, not its regulatory regime.

Tom Cranitch | 23 April 2010  

I'm not sure you've thought this through properly.

Rather than being a "remnant", salary caps in Aussie sport is a relatively recent business practice that is not uniquely Australian and its merit rather depends on which team you follow. For example, the salary cap system makes it very difficult for any club to retain its players and championship-winning teams rarely stay together for more than a season. If you follow a champion team, that is hardly something desireable which is what this is all about.

Paying players a few extra quid under the table to stay with the team may be against the rules but it is hardly the crime of the century. And overnight to turn a thriving champion team into a basket case is just sheer incompetence on the part of the NRL and something it will probably live to regret. There is no reason that with a little more patience and forbearance, the issue could not have been resolved in a just manner other than punishing the supporters and players for the sins of others. This is simply anger unleashed. If you are a Storm supporter or rugby fan, what good can come of it?

Nathan Socci | 23 April 2010  

A very ordinary article indeed.
I doubt that the writer can guarantee that other NRL clubs are not in breach of the salary cap.

For someone who lectures in sport he knows very little about the culture of team sport.
Whilst the salary cap breaches may have assisted the Storm to maintain the best playing roster in the NRL,money cannot buy team discipline,the willingness to make sacrifices for each other and simply work harder than the opposition to achieve success.

Peter Golding | 24 April 2010  

Visontay's hyperbole on Australian egalitarian value systems misses the point altogether. What are the things that Australians value? Honesty? Equal opportunity?Being gracious either in defeat or victory? Charitable? Judging from the recent headlines, we have none of the national virtues that Visontay seems to suggest.

The insulation debacle highlights the prevailing dishonesty among some small businesses. The almost hysterical celebration at the death of one of Australia's convicted prisoner simply recalls the mood of crowds outside Highgate Prison baying for blood, or those who flock to watch the decapitation of condemned prisoners by the guillotine! The corrupt practice in sport, business and democratically elected authorities happens all the time, even on Anzac days.

Of course, Visontay does not mean that Melbourne Storm's display of dishonesty would have been alright if it didn't take place during the country's Anzac memorial day. But it doesn't have anything with the values we hold so dear. To link sporting prowess with nationhood is both facile and simple minded, to say the least.

What should be of greater concern is that the writer is spreading his doctrine by stereotyping Australia to young and (often) gullible minds. I'd rather Australians show greater respect and heap praise on those who teach, sing, dance, play instruments, paint, sculpt or even build buildings and cities; in other words, those who are engaged in the building of a creative nation. I'd vote for governments that regard asylum seekers as desperate people who seek solace in our vast country, rather than demonise them, lead the world in the global battle against climate change whatever the cost. In other words, a government that strife to achieve a perfect society without resorting to glorifying lost battles of the past.

Alex Njoo | 24 April 2010  

Australia stopped being Australia more than 20 years ago.There are too many things that have changed here, that it can no longer be recognized as Australia.It would be nice to turn back the clock, but alas that can't be.
America is a major cause of what is wrong,their way does not include anything for the 'little' of this world.Sad to say, the past is no more, but only too true.

H.G. | 24 April 2010  

Can I offer a few words in defence of Michael Visontay's fine article, against a rather large football team of disparaging voices? Sport does express a lot of very important Australian (as well as universal) values, and it is right to be upset and to protest when these values are traduced. The Melbourne Storm affair is no small deal, as covert drug-using in Olympic competition to tilt the playing field in one's favour is no small deal.

I did not read Michael's references to Anzac Day and to the principle of the fair go as inappropriate. He was not comparing sport to war, but he was saying that sport has to adhere to some commonly agreed moral standards, or it is no longer real sport. Of course, these are not the standards of the rules of war: war has its own distinct ethical standards, which are too often violated by participants.

It is good to see a journalist of Michael Visontay's calibre as Editor-in-Chief of CathNews, and writing for Eureka Street. I remember Michael as one of the braver editors and journalists in the John Howard dark ages, which most of us are now keen to sweep under the rug that we euphemistically call Australian political history. Visontay was ready to expose ethical malpractices of Howard's rogue government, at a time when too many others remained prudently silent.

His piece here on the ethics of sport as demonstrated in the Melbourne Storm story was most illuminating - it gets to the heart of the matter; that what was done here was 'a betrayal of the other clubs, their players and the public', and that these actions 'stole the past from the other clubs'. And this matters. Public organisations have an obligation to the people to behave ethically, in sport as in other areas.

tony kevin | 24 April 2010  

Well the first game that Storm has played since the storm erupted has been played, and 24000 fans showed that commentary such as Mr Visontay's totally misses the point. Storm are the finest team ever to have played League, and the players have been developed by the club, not bought in.

To pay players to stay is not the worst offence in the world, and to compare this to sexual abuse is so astoundingly childish that Visontay should be roundly condemned by the Hierarchy, and removed from his post with CathNews.

DavidP | 25 April 2010  

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