THE BIG ISSUE: #40

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

IN the NRL, we tend to give new officials a honeymoon period – then we smash them.

The honeymoon period of referees coach Daniel Anderson is well and truly over, thanks to Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart who last week accused him of writing incomprehensible match summaries and needlessly factoring “discretionary penalties” in his assessment of match officials.

Stuart also said whistlers spoke to players in “friggin Spanish”, prompting the clowns on the Fire Up! radio show to say Ricky should have listened when they advised him to appoint at least one Spanish-speaking captain!

The other NRL official who is copping it is the new chief executive, David Smith.

As a journalist, you might expect me to join the cacophony of complaints that Smith doesn’t answer his phone that often and isn’t accessible to those of us in the fourth estate.

But as a rugby league fan, I am not sure I want a leader who even cares what I am typing right now. I want someone who is a bit of a statesman, above the daily cycle of criticism that drives the media machine.

I want someone who has a vision for rugby league and is willing to pursue it until it gets him sacked.

Does the commissioner of the NFL finish his day by returning the calls for 47 hacks at every newspaper in the United States?

Big Issue is not suggesting Neil Whittaker, David Moffett and David Gallop were harming rugby league in any way when they spoke to the Sydney dailies and The Australian multiple times per week.

Despite what some may think, Gallop showed no favouritism; I probably spoke to him more when I was at Fairfax than I did at the Telegraph.

It’s great that these men ruled in eras when that was possible.

But if rugby league is going to realise its potential in a changing media environment, it should not be possible for the CEO to do that anymore. We should be aiming to get to a point where there are just too many requests for him to handle.

The influence of traditional outlets is receding as websites, blogs and social media gain more traction. Compelling evidence of this will be the way criticism of Smith from old media has little or no effect, whereas it would have seriously undermined his predecessors.

As a journalist, I cannot endorse anything that restricts freedom of speech. But intellectually, I understand why we need to keep the game out of the defamation courts by fining coaches who question referees’ integrity.

Similarly, as a journalist, it would be great to be able to pick up the phone at any time and ring David Smith.

I’ve been covering rugby league since 1986 and work for a number of media outlets in various capacities.

I’ve never met David Smith.

But if I’m honest, I kind of like it that way.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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