THE BIG ISSUE: #31

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

WHEN controversies erupt like the Australian Crime Commission report into doping, organised crime and match fixing in sport, people assume journalists “knew something” but could not – or would not – write about it.

It’s true, reporters “hear stuff”.

Every couple of months, someone will tell you that a player is on drugs.  Sometimes, it comes from other players and often, it’s a nudge or a wink rather than a straight-out allegation.

Alternatively, you are told that someone went to a player’s fridge to get a beer and found it had a false back, with syringes in a hidden compartment.  Or that someone jumped a fence to escape drug testers, or was warned they were coming and didn’t show up to training.

But everyone else in the game “hears stuff” before us. In a recent online column at The Roar, Brian Smith wrote of a nameless player he jettisoned from his club because of a lack of size: “a pretty fair young player who fitted the ‘before’ photo in a body building mag left my club as we did not think he would get “the rig necessary to cut it in the NRL”. To our surprise he bobbed up at another club just a couple of seasons later looking like the ‘after’ photo! “He has absolutely carved it and is now one of the best players in our sport. Did he cheat to get there? I have some reason to believe that may have happened, but no proof.”

You can’t prove that someone is on drugs.

So apart from sneaking into someone’s house, hiding some device in a toilet cistern and then paying someone to test the sample (can a ‘civilian’ even do that?), it’s one big story a reporter is unlikely to ever be able to write – unless you find a whistle-blower to quote or photograph someone actually shooting up something.

But match fixing and organised crime are completely different matters.

There are allegations about match fixing in rugby league that go almost as far back as 1908. Referee Darcy Lawler’s impact on the 1963 grand final is the stuff of legend, for instance.

Yet it took until last week for the NRL to finally announce it was introducing an integrity unit. Not even the Ryan Tandy findings could persuade the League of the need for its own version of a “stewards” panel.

So the rugby league media has fared better over the years when it comes to match fixing than it has in relation to exposing drugs cheats. WThere are regularly stories written about such allegations, although legally there is a fine line to be walked.

Rugby league officials, on the other hand, have put a lot of work and resources into policing drugs but nowhere near enough into the scourge of corruption that affects on-field events. They’ve reacted too late.

So let’s move onto the final part of this unholy trilogy –organised crime.

It’s an old trick of writers – reporters, actually – to described a scenario, use no names, and make it seem as if that scenario is quite widespread. I’m probably guilty of it myself.

Then, when there is later just one instances of this scenario, you can say “well, I was right”. More often than not, this subtle form of exaggeration comes mostly from enthusiasm for the subject matter that outstrips reality.

But should a government agency, which we keep reading has “the powers of a standing Royal Commission” be doing this?

If there is only one example of match fixing under investigation, then how prevalent really is this salacious situation whereby an organised crime figure ingratiates himself to a player, photographs the player taking part in some sort of illegal activity and then uses the photograph to blackmail the athlete in question into some form of match fixing?

If there is only one example of match-fixing being investigated– as the ACC said – we can only assume this has happened … once.

Again, examples of agents wining and dining players and of football teams going straight to the front of the line at nightclubs before being handed a wad of drink tickets are about as common as actual games of football.

But shady criminals using snaps of footballers snorting cocaine and cavorting with prostitutes in order to get them to throw a game or give away a penalty?

It’ll make a great plot for Underbelly: NRL but I’d suggest the script writers will have to take some poetic licence – and they won’t be the first.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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