THE BIG ISSUE: #35

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

ONE of the comments that have been made about the whole ACC Investigation is that sports fans can’t process it because we are used to swift justice.

Someone stiff-arms a guy on the weekend and by Wednesday night they’re in front of the judiciary and they’re out six weeks. That’s it.

By comparison, investigating drug rings run by bikie gangs, in which professional athletes may only be the customers, takes much, much longer.

But there is another reason we find it hard to get our heads around the current inquiry into doping, match fixing and organised crime. It’s the methods that are being used.

Imagine if someone was sent off for an horrendous high tackle this weekend, which knocked someone out and was likely to result in a 12 month suspension.

Instead of referring him straight to the judiciary, we sat the offender in a room and said “do you know of any of your team-mates receiving direct payments from sponsors, outside the salary cap? If you tell us, we’ll let you play next week”.

Or if someone was caught on camera eye-gouging and we asked them to give up former team-mates – not current ones, even – for using drugs and they’d get off with a warning.

Can you imagine the outcry, the moral indignation of the average football fan? I dare say the approach would be described almost immediately as “blackmail”. That type of investigatory tactic would be clearly inappropriate for the situation.

Yet that is what ASADA is doing, inviting players to – in the words of Brent Kite – “roll over” on their mates in return for leniency.

Justice in its purest sense should not even involve discounts for early guilty pleas. You do the crime, you do the time – plea bargaining encourages people to admit to crimes they didn’t do and lie about their level of contrition.

But law enforcement agencies crossed that line a century or more ago – because crime was winning and they had to get down in the gutter with criminals. They had to make deterrents to crime and incentives to dob in offenders bigger and bigger and were happy to introduce deception to their arsenal.

We’ve crossed the line in our tiny part of society too, by offering good behaviour, early pleas and demerit points which also save our little judicial system a lot of work.

But if you follow the same path of logic to its conclusion, you get the American military waterboarding terror suspects on special rendition. The ends, in the minds of those making the decision to use torture, justified the means. They felt they were saving lives.

OK, so draw a line in your mind. At one end is basic justice; crime, punishment and no other components. In the middle, you have tricking people into admissions, statutary powers and jail sentences for not co-operatiing, whistleblowers and picking on organisations and individuals based on their perceived weaknesses. And right at the other end, you have torture.

No-one would suggest we strip a “sports scientist” naked and lead him around in a dog collar. No-one would suggest we just ask a player if he injected drugs and believe him on faith.

A motorist with a broken tail-light has contravened the law but does that mean he should be spread-eagled face-down on the road with a gun at his head? No.

So if you have athletes who are found to have taken performance enhancing drugs unknowingly, at the advice of their club, where do they belong on that line? And is the place we have put them over the past month the right place? Do they belong in the same spot as drug-running bikies, which is where they are now?

Instead of asking ourselves if the punishment fits the crime, we should be asking ourselves if the relevant agencies have gone overboard. We should be asking if the investigation fits the crime.

.

SOME people are unhappy that Josh Papalii was able to change his mind after signing with Parramatta and decide instead to stay with Canberra.

The mechanism which gives players until after round 13 to make up their mind on any contract they sign with a rival club for the following year is “untidy”, they say.

As usual in rugby league “people” have short memories. The system under which the NRL does not register contracts until halfway through the season is the successor to the anti-tampering rule, which banned all negotiations until after June 30.

Go back further and look at why we had that rule. The consensus for fans is that they didn’t like players being paraded in rival club colours while they were still playing each weekend for their current team.

But the anti-tampering rules were unenforceable and each year a slew of stars signed with new teams – miraculously – on July 1. Or, if they had tact, July 2.

Now, the objective of the new rule – like the old one – is to discouraged mid-season defections, or those that come even earlier.

So a big star has signed for one club, used the “cooling off period” to cool RIGHT off, and decided to stay where he is.

Therefore, the new system works – achieving with a littler coercion what we couldn’t do with legislation. Events at Parramatta and Canberra will discourage clubs from signing players too far in advance – which is exactly what we wanted to happen.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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