An absolute mess

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The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and the Federal Government have for the past eight days been complicit in the biggest ****-up imaginable, throwing a spear deep into the heart of this nation’s sporting lifeblood.

And it all started with a song-and-dance, theatrical press conference last Thursday that could have proudly stood alongside any of the world’s best stage productions.

I am not for one moment downplaying the very serious situation potentially engulfing sporting codes across the nation, but the way this has been handled over the past week has been nothing short of an abomination.

The ACC along with ministers Jason Clare and Kate Lundy essentially got themselves a packet of blindfolds, loaded up their guns and shot poison darts aimlessly at players, clubs and codes, essentially putting sporting achievements of the past, present and future on hold and placing a cloud of suspicion over Australian sport.

Just why the ACC and the Federal Government held last Thursday’s press conference remains a mystery. After all, investigations were far from over. Nobody had been charged, and in fact, not even a single arrest was imminent.

No clubs named, no players named, no specifics. Just one giant blanket accusation that had everyone under suspicion, and caused a domino effect of international publicity that has damaged the view of Australia overseas.

What’s even more mysterious is why so many of the key sporting CEOs agreed to attend the press conference, given so little detail was to be delivered.

The National Rugby League (NRL) clubs referred to in the ACC report into, amongst other things, the potential use of banned substances in sport, weren’t even made aware they were mentioned until Monday night – four days after the ACC and the Federal Government produced the chest-beating press conference.

Even then, and even now, the clubs have very little detail about what allegations may arise.

Which does make you wonder why NRL CEO Dave Smith stood as part of the “united front” at that press conference.

Let’s say for a moment, hypothetically, the ACC and the Government was about to deliver a press conference based on a report that suggested journalists at some newspapers had been taking bribes for whatever reason.

There’s no way in hell I would stand up at that press conference, representing this newspaper, unless I had absolute specifics regarding its involvement.

Dave Smith had an opportunity to look at the ACC and the Government and simply say: put up or shut up.

If rugby league has a case to answer, tell us what that case is.

The innocent people who have been tarnished this past week deserve to have their names cleared.

And whilst I understand and respect Phil Gould’s comments late on Tuesday that he understands why there needs to be confidentiality, you have to wonder why if all of this was so secret, the ACC and the Government made it so very public last week.

In a media statement this week, the ACC said, “The Australian Crime Commission cannot name clubs and individuals, as they are protected under Section 60 of the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 which protects the rights of persons against reputational damage and the right to a fair trial”.

Yet by being complicit in last Thursday’s press conference and the soap opera that has followed, the ACC essentially did what it promises not to do.

It may not have named clubs, but it set up a situation where the media was always going to utilise a process of elimination to out them.

It may not have named players, but it tossed a blanket over playing groups as a whole and hurt the reputations of many who will not ever be implicated.

And in the process it put a massive black mark on Australian sport in the eyes of the world, without even an ounce of real detail or forethought.

Rugby league has an extraordinary ability to tear itself apart.

The Melbourne Storm and Canterbury Bulldogs salary cap scandals have provided evidence of that in recent years, and there is no greater example than the Super League war in the mid 1990’s which almost destroyed the code.

But its resilience and ability to control a situation from within has always ensured its survival. As it stands, rugby league cannot even defend itself because we don’t know what we are defending.

When all this is over, do not be surprised to see heads roll – and not just inside the sports themselves.

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