THE BIG ISSUE: #59

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

“A person is intelligent and sensible,” someone remarked to me at the start of the week, ‘but people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”

The comment, about the fascinating and scary herd mentality we call “mob rules”, came in the wake of the outcry over Cronulla’s seventh-tackle try on Saturday night.

Let’s look at the facts: the referees miscounted. The video referees, who are supposed to help them keep count, didn’t. Cronulla scored a try on the seventh tackle and subsequently won by a margin which meant the try in question – mathematically – determined the result.

A completely different officiating error, this time by the video referee, also ended North Queensland’s season at the same venue last year.

Those are the facts. From there, the Cowboys’ coach throws up, without explicitly supporting, the idea there is a conspiracy that everyone wants a Sydney Roosters v South Sydney grand final. Somehow, in the minds of thousands of people, this becomes fact.

Here’s where this column splits in two.

Strand A goes like this: to even address the suggestion that the NRL is in cahoots with referees and would willingly embarrass themselves and the sport to ensure a team that has been the subject of a drugs investigation all year progresses in the finals is an insult to your intelligence.

That’s the end of Strand A.

Strand B goes like this: Neil Henry is right. The Sydney media does want a Sydney Roosters-South Sydney grand final. The Sydney media, and the television and radio broadcasters, have an audience in mind.

You could argue the news values employed in a Sydney newsroom are just representing the genuine priorities of its audience – or you could contend the motivations are purely cynical and commercial. That’s a debate for another column.

But the referees are a furphy. The real issue is that media outlets are inherently selfish and inward looking and the NRL isn’t doing enough to counter this.

The referees are a furphy but in truth, the NRL IS Sydney- and Brisbane-centric.

Because ratings in those cities are the ones that attract advertisers and raise advertising fees, they are more important to the broadcasters. Magazines know which players and clubs on the cover will sell, and which won’t, as another example.

But the NRL has no control over who is on the front of magazines. It can control when games are played.

It is frankly outrageous that Brisbane Broncos should be on every second Friday night, that Canberra are never on free-to-air television and that Melbourne should have to play in every timeslot possible, being tossed around by broadcasters like a hand grenade with the pin removed.

Brisbane, South Sydney, Parramatta, St George Illawarra, Canterbury, Manly and – thanks mainly to SBW – Sydney Roosters are the pretty girls everyone wants to dance with because they represent dollar signs to broadcasters.

And the NRL is happy to make those damsels dance to the broadcaster’s tune, impacting on the very fairness and parity of their own competition (through scheduling), which becomes collateral damage.

The NRL is really about the size of an American college competition, in terms of reach. Because we have a small market and canibalised ourselves a decade and a half ago, the compromises detailed above have been deemed a necessary evil.

We’re happy to cut corners. Canterbury and Sydney Roosters each got to play at their home grounds in the first week of the finals – but one of them had to share it with another game, and the other didn’t. We have some teams who play in giant stadia and others who go round at suburban parks. One team has a whole country to draw on, another has a cluster of inner-city suburbs.

The NRL is Sydney- and Brisbane-centric because those are the cities that make the cash registers tinkle. But as this column has always said, a professional sport needs to be capitalist to the outside world but intensely socialist internally to succeed.

Until everyone is treated equally, all the time, the dumb, the panicky and the dangerous will always have something to latch onto.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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