LET’S start this item about the $15,000 fine meted out to Ricky Stuart on Monday by saying we understand what the NRL is trying to achieve.
Yes, respect for referees is paramount and yes, there is culture of criticism – some would say attempted manipulation – in our competition which is probably unhealthy.
But the thing about the rule as it stood until about 5pm on Monday was that you could defend it as an apparatus that kept rugby league out of the courts.
Generally speaking, aside from a couple of times when coaches have used swear words in their criticism, the comments which have attracted fines could conceivably have led to defamation proceedings.
No-one wants referees suing coaches for libel.
But on Monday, the goalposts moved – or more precisely, they got wider and higher, so much so that they now cover most of the tryline and the uprights go up to the back row of ANZ Stadium.
Here are the comments that could vaguely be described as questioning the integrity of officials
“We cannot be so different every week to the opposition in regards to – not penalty counts but – what we’re getting penalised for”
“The same actions aren’t being penalised for the opposition team”
Now, every weekend captains make comments like that to referees out on the field. Those comments are broadcast, via SportsEars, to television and radio audiences nationally and internationally.
Are we going to start fining captains for bringing the game into disrepute?
Or was Stuart fined for questioning the “competency” of Daniel Anderson? Our whole game was born out of questioning the “competency” of authority, back at The George in 1895.
Without rabble-rousing and rebellion, there would be no rugby league. Do the current inhabitants of League Central understand that? It’s the purpose of rugby league, it’s in every strand of our DNA.
You can say that coaches should not be allowed to intimidate referees – that’s right, referees shouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced and I don’t think they do.
The precedent set by Monday’s breach notice is that if someone says “David Smith is hopeless” or “the commission are doing a crap job”, they can now be fined for bringing the game into disrepute by questioning “competency”.
I don’t think anyone would stand for such oppressive censorship. Not only is it Orwellian and even somewhat fascist, it’s against what rugby league has always been about.
PS: And if Stuart is being picked on as a repeat offender – isn’t that what he was accusing referees of doing to his team in the first place? It suggests he might be right.
OK it’s comments time, going back to last week’s column, and there have been lots of them.