New Storm CEO Says AFL Isn’t The Enemy

Melbourne - Mark EvansBy STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE Storm’s CEO-in-waiting Mark Evans says rugby league does not have to fight tooth and nail with the AFL in Victoria and instead all sport should be trying to attract people away from other leisure pursuits.

In his first interview since being tapped by the club’s potential new owners to take over from chief executive Ron Gauci, the high profile English rugby union administrator has outlined how he became involved, what stage takeover talks had reached and his initial impressions of the Australian sports scene.

Asked if was ready to roll up his sleeves and battle AFL, Evans said: “No, I don’t think so.

“I think it’s about doing a good job yourself as a sport and competition. If do that, nine times out of 10 people will come and watch.

“When I was in Australia recently, I noticed some cultural differences. In the UK, sport sees itself as a competitor with other leisure activities, like going to the cinema or whatever.

“You rarely have sports saying ‘we have to keep ahead of …’ and name another sport.

“In most markets, rugby league and rugby union are not really competitors. Australia might be a bit different in that regard.

“Melbourne is different in that there are nine AFL clubs, rugby league, rugby union and two soccer clubs. But you just have to do your own job well and if you do that hopefully enough people will do what you want them to.”

Evans declined to comment on the identity of the London-based consortium which approached him to run the Storm but said he had initially conducted an informal, in-person assessment of the NRL and world premiers for the group before agreeing to be CEO.

He added the sale of the club remained imminent – although his return to London last week was a sign that it would not be a matter of days away.

“It’s close but not done,” he said. “You can never say it’s guaranteed until it’s done.”

The former CEO of Harlequins and Saracens and a consultant this year’s Rugby League World Cup, Evans said Melbourne was a “wonderful place” but he would not leave his London-based consultancy without regrets

“It’s not Somalia, is it?” he said when asked about the lifestyle change. “I like what I am doing here in London but at the same time, this is an opportunity … it came out of the blue.”

On the field, coach Craig Bellamy is convinced defensive frailties exposed by Canberra last week have been resolved for Sunday’s trip to Penrith.

“We have to make sure we make teams work hard to score tries and not give them a saloon passage through,” Bellamy told reporters at training.

“We individualised what we thought we needed to individualise. Some of that came from the rest of the team, some of it came one-on-one.

“Hopefully we’ve covered those areas and those guys can be sharper this week.

“We’re certainly not going to over-react and start jumping at shadows.”

Last Saturday’s loss ended a 15-game winning streak for the Storm but Bellamy contended “losses don’t seem to affect younger players as much as they used to.”

New signing Dayne Weston was not named in the side to play his former club Penrith at Centrebet Stadium on Sunday.

Filed for: THE AGE

THE BIG ISSUE: #7

By STEVE MASCORD

WHEN it became apparent last week Gold Coast would still need an advance on their NRL club grant, even with the sale of the Centre Of Excellence, David Gallop was quoted as saying: “One of the key questions is: to what extent are the game’s funds going to be used to assist the club?”

This column is not about the Titans but out of the mouths of …. CEOs! Because the way The Big Issue sees it, that is THE key question for our sport as a whole in Australia. Our battle with AFL is not a level playing field precisely because we are still naive enough to have a level playing field.

Ben Ikin touched on this in a recent Sydney Morning Herald blog, and it’s astounding. You know that the AFL signed Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau and gave them to GWS and the Suns, outside the salary cap, right? But did you know that the AFL openly gives some clubs more than $6 million more than others in grants?

That’s completely above-board, public, everyone knows!

Every club gets $3.25 million over the period of 2012 to 2016 BUT another $48 million is to be distributed in what they call a “disequal” (highschool English, anyone?) fashion between now and 2014 with another $37 million to be allocated for the two years after that.

Here’s what it means: Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne will each get $10.2 from the AFL between now and 2016. Geelong Cats will only get 3.25 in the same period (interestingly, the two new clubs are not down to receive any of this largesse)

How does it work? Believe it or not, the AFL determines everything from how many coaches to how many digital media staff a club needs to be successful – and funds those jobs if the club can’t afford to. It compensates clubs that have crap stadium deals – and so on.

But here’s the clincher: if you stick your hand out for this cash, the AFL audits you every couple of months. And if you stuff up – like you’re a developing country and they’re the International Monetary Fund – they pull your funding. I didn’t set out to talk about Gold Coast specifically here but let’s hope the NRL is better resourced in future so it can keep a closer eye of the fiscal health of its member clubs.

Put simply, an advance on funding should come in the form of a cheque carried by in person by an accountant who goes straight into the clubs’ bank. In his other hand, at all times, should be fine tooth comb.

The issue I do want to address here is this: would you feel comfortable if other clubs were getting more money from the governing body that your club? It happens all over the world in other sports: if you finish last, you get first pick in the draft. If you’re a development area, you get other benefits, financial or recruitment-oriented.

But historically, rugby league is a big old gravy train for strugglers. It flourishes in places like south Auckland, Cumbria and western Sydney where it’s not so easy to earn a buck and each penny is cherished. The idea of sacrificing, well, anything, for the greater good does not take root easily. Rugby League is, culturally, an every-man-for-himself scene.

But even in England, they appreciate the importance of a club in London enough to let them sign more Aussies and Kiwis than everyone else. But how about you? How do you feel about the NRL giving Melbourne special funding? How would you feel if the Cronulla and the Titans got a ‘disequal’share of the new TV deal – because they need it?

I suspect you wouldn’t like it. I suspect we are still, 113 years on from the split from rugby union, too plain selfish and small minded to know what’s good for us. We just want to win this weekend, that’s it.

So don’t go whinging if Little Johnny wants to play AFL instead of rugby league. Don’t whine about the old days when they rip down the crossbar at your local oval. If, as Dermott Brereton says, AFL becomes the dominant code in Australia in 20 years, don’t blame anyone but yourself and your selfishness.

See, we can defeat an enemy that is financially, strategically and geographically superior to us. But morally superior? Not a hope.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK