THE BIG ISSUE: #38

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

MY SOMETIMES ABC colleague Tim Gavel on Monday posted a Tweet that was beautiful in its simplicity: “The dangers of gambling on sport and the perils of social media are two major issues facing Australia’s current generation of sportsmen.”

As if to lead by example, Tim left the statement – which was in no way controversial – to stand on its own and didn’t immediately respond to anyone who agreed or disagreed.

Let’s divide this sentence – perfect for Twitter’s character limit – into two.

Sports gambling in Australia is at a crossroads. We live in a country where you can’t buy alcohol at the corner store but bookies are part of the footy commentary team.

The various governments have begun to move on the issue but they earn money themselves out of gambling and are, as a result, conflicted. Most of the NSW-based NRL clubs rely, to some degree, on poker machine income.

In fact, the old Sydney premiership was so deeply rooted in gambling that State of Origin was introduced to counter the attraction of pokie money dragging Queensland talent across the Tweed River.

Who knows? We may one day find out that many, many games in the past were fixed with SP bookies seemingly never too far from our dressing rooms and training fields.

If there ever was corruption in top level rugby league, it is gone. Racism and sexism have been a part of the game too. They, too, have been chased to the fringes.

But don’t kid yourself that just because Tom Waterhouse is on television, gambling is a new scourge. It is an old bedfellow and the only thing new about it is its outrageous generosity.

We relied on gambling when we were a part-time sport and we never developed the guts to become independent of it. Russell Crowe tried, ripping the pokies out of Souths Leagues and after an ownership change, it went broke.

Somehow, we are a now a fulltime professional sport with $1.025 billion in TV rights and gambling still has us by the cohunes. How? Think of the gambling industry as a tide, which will come in day after day, filling the gaps we leave for it.

We thought we could replace it with TV money – so it just paid its way into our television coverage and sponsored a stadium or two! Rugby league delivers working class Australians and no-one sucks money out of working class Australians like the gambling industry.

It was forever thus.

So what are the dangers to players? That they are seduced into affecting the progress and results of matches for the sake of bookmakers? Again, I would say that is nothing particularly new.

Social media, on the other hand, is rather new. When Josh Dugan complained on the weekend that he was “like everybody else”, he had already proven the point.

People love provoking reactions – Dugan included. He loves that people know who he is, that he has thousands of followers and that everybody has an opinion on him. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t engage those people.

We have to get past the mentality of concerning ourselves with what athletes say on social media because social media now IS society. If you are abusive on social media, you are ANTI-SOCIAL. The keystroke is just today’s equivalent of a drunken rant or breaking other people’s property.

The problem is not that Josh Dugan called someone a “nuffie” and a “spastic”, it’s that he THINKS of fans like that. Just banning someone from social media is like putting them on what we used to call “a media ban”.

Just because you don’t do any interviews – or post any pictures on Instagram – does not stop you from being a hazard to yourself, your club or the general public. Making people behave on social media is no more than a copout or a cover-up

The “perils of social media” are now “the perils of life”.

.

FOLLOWING our item last week about the obstruction rule, it was heartening to hear Daniel Anderson on the ABC strongly suggest he will be giving referees back their discretion when he has enough ex-players who have their heads around working in the video box.

At least, that’s what I read between the lines. He said the aim was to “get to the point” where Cooper Cronk’s round three try against Canterbury would be allowed.

Clearly, Anderson doesn’t trust his charges at this stage to get it right – so he’s introduced the hard and fast rules which have upset so many people.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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