The NRL has 10 days to deliberate a dilemma: does an ARL Commission meeting on February 28 enact the Nick D’Arcy rule and ban footballers for any offence punishable by imprisonment, or not over-react to a spate of cases of domestic and sexual violence at odds with recent trends?
ARL Commission chair Peter Beattie has shown interest in a piece written in Saturday’s Herald by lawyer and columnist Darren Kane, who pointed out the Australian Olympic Committee has the power to immediately suspend an athlete who is alleged to have committed an offence of the type St George Illawarra’s Jack de Belin has been charged with.
Kane pointed out the AOC cut D’Arcy from the 2008 Olympic team to Beijing when the swimmer was charged with assault occasioning grievous bodily harm.
Beattie has been in contact with AOC president John Coates, who suspended D’Arcy in a ruling that was twice appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It was finally resolved by a panel of eminent jurists including Alan Sullivan QC, a former chair of the ARL judiciary, who ruled that the AOC by-laws did empower it to suspend D’Arcy.
The question for Beattie is: have community standards for rugby league moved to where the AOC was in 2008?
In other words, does the outrage over the NRL and the Dragons not suspending de Belin, charged with aggravated sexual assault, justify enacting AOC rules? Or, does rugby league, traditionally a code of over-reaction, take a few deep breaths and reflect on a chart of major NRL incidents. According to one club boss it shows that there were nearly 60 cases investigated by the NRL’s integrity department in 2014, with that number dropping every year to under 20 in 2018 before rising over the off-season to 30?
Furthermore, as Beattie points out, the Summer Olympics is an event spread over three weekends every four years involving many mainly amateur athletes.
The NRL is a day-to-day sport consisting of 500 young men with incomes up to $1 million, many of whom haven’t had the careful family nurturing of say, an equestrian competitior.
The NRL’s major rival, AFL, has the same rule with players charged by the police; that is, it does not sanction a player subject to a criminal investigation until the judicial proceedings are complete.
Since the D’Arcy case, the AOC has further strengthened its rules, adding to its catch-all “bringing the sport into disrepute” with an Ethical Behaviour by-law, saying the athlete must “not at any time be convicted of, or charged with, any serious offence involving violence, alcohol or drugs, or any sex offence, or child abuse offence, or any offence relating to any betting or gambling activities on sport, or any offence which is punishable by imprisonment”.
Now, that basically rules out only parking infringements for a group of schooner-loving, testosterone-fuelled young men who don’t turn the other cheek when provoked in bars and who love a bet.
Beattie admits he has a big challenge deciding whether community standards for NRL players are equivalent to what the AOC perceived to be relevant to its athletes a decade ago.
He told the Herald: “Rugby League is going through a difficult and frustrating period as a result of bad behaviour from a handful of players.
“The ARLC and NRL are not sitting on our hands. In light of recent events, we are reviewing the game’s current disciplinary policy.”
In this process, perhaps someone will discover a caveat to its existing disciplinary policy of not sanctioning a player until the court proceedings are complete.
Under the heading NRL Code of Conduct 2016, rule 58 “Criminal Proceeding”, the NRL will not take action “unless the CEO or COO form the view, in their absolute discretion, that it is appropriate to do so.”
In other words, Todd Greenberg and Nick Weeks already have the power to sack de Belin and anyone else whose case is before the courts.
The architect of the AOC by-law, Patrick George, senior partner at Sydney law firm Kennedys, believes the NRL should be able to act in the case of de Belin and others, such as Manly’s Dylan Walker, who faces court later this month after being charged with assaulting his fiancee.
“If a player has been charged with a serious offence, the NRL should be able to act, not withstanding the player is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” George said. “It goes to the issue of
damage to the NRL’s brand, which is happening at the moment.”