7 April 2020

COVID-19 has exposed the excesses of sport

| Tim Gavel
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Raiders playing at Canberra Stadium

Behind every NRL, AFL, Super Rugby and A-League team there’s an army of support staff. Photo: Tim Gavel.

In the early days of the Raiders you could count staff members on two hands and the club was operating out of the Queanbeyan Leagues Club.

The gym was located in the squash courts and the coaches were positioned in offices through the club.

The players had jobs and trained at night at Seiffert Oval. As a journalist, if you wanted to interview a player, you did it at the player’s place of work.

Then along came professionalism and television money, and with more money in the game, the spending on resources went into overdrive.

Players no longer needed jobs because of the higher salaries. They trained through the day and had nights to themselves.

The real growth, though, emerged in football departments and support staff. It emulated an arms race. If one club had a specialist coach or analyst, you could be sure it was soon replicated at every other club.

This not only applied to the Raiders, it’s at every football club in every code, whether it be NRL, AFL, Super Rugby or the A-League.

Having said that, the Raiders are regarded as middle range when it comes to spending on their operations and it’s nothing when compared to the size of the football departments in the AFL.

Another aspect has been the ballooning payments to players. Every time more money comes into sport, players demand an increase in payment. The salary cap in the NRL was scheduled to be $9.9 million next season, of which $9.5 million would be spent on 30 players at each club.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent cutbacks have exposed the true nature of spending in professional sport in Australia.

Do you think we would be having this discussion had the pandemic not forced the shutdown of sport? I seriously doubt it. The focus instead would have been on the playing field.

The shutdown has caused this introspection, and it may be the wakeup call that some sports needed.

Among rugby league supporters, the real issue is the spending at NRL headquarters and the revelation if costs $493,000 a week to run the competition and State of Origin series.

That figure – practically a rounding error off half-a-million a week – doesn’t include payments to players, clubs and the development of the code.

In the NRL, a few targets for savings have emerged, including costs associated with ‘the bunker’, which is reported to cost $2 million a year.

When sport does resume, there will be a focus on keeping costs down. The COVID-19 shutdown, if nothing else, has provided impetus for all sport to take a look at their spending. The current model has proven to be unsustainable.

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There have been multiple cases of sporting stars (especially footballers of various codes) world wide breaking isolation rules.

It seems to confirm the perception that many footballers believe they are too important to have to follow the rules that the rest of us do.

Sports stars, like most celebrities should be recognised as poor role models, not good ones.

The NRL has set yet another new low standard in mis-management. It ranks right up there with spitting in the faces of nurses or hoarding medical supplies to sell on e-bay.

What a joke to hold press conferences, media interviews claiming that ‘medical advice says we can do it’ when you haven’t even checked in with the government medical experts or ministers and everyone else is locked down for Easter.

Our Olympians had trained, mostly unheard of, for the past four years. They are all ‘yes, health comes first – we can wait, we can work around this’

But NRL…. Waaah! who cares about this stupid pandemic – what about us??’

I am appalled that the NRL would even consider asking to start playing again. What a slap in the face for the rest of us who are not enjoying staying at home but understand why it’s happening. How could NSW and Victoria fine ordinary people and allow football to flout the ‘rules’.

On top of all this the ACT government pays an AFL club millions of dollars to play games in Canberra. This is probably not uncommon – maybe Tasmania also pays heaps for AFL matches too? From what Tim writes, it appears that tax payers are subsidising these clubs so they can pay for excessive staffing levels and player wages. This ‘arms race’ is addictive. Time for a reset?

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