Real Storm surprise is that people are surprised

It has been a most tumultuous week in Australian sport. Well, in Australian professional sport. You have to be specific because I reckon professional sport and normal, everyday, garden-variety sport are actually quite different. One is about commerce, the other is about the game.

The tumult comes from the exposure of the flagrant salary cap rort at the Melbourne Storm. This incident has received such sensational coverage that you would think it has altered the course of human history, and civilisation as we know it will never be the same.

There is no doubt it is a magnificent issue; an issue which would make a university sports studies lecturer salivate. Indeed, a media studies lecturer salivate. Indeed, a business studies lecturer salivate. Indeed, a sociology lecturer salivate. Indeed, a law lecturer salivate. Indeed, a professor of literature salivate.

As someone who would like to teach literature drawing on the finest traditions of the apple-crunching Donald Sutherland in Animal House (a movie which influenced my undergraduate career more than I could ever have anticipated) I would like to consider the Storm rort as part of the sweep of human history. It is beautifully Greek and Biblical and Shakespearean and Footy Show all at once. It is about greed and ambition and community and fallen heroes and a whole stack of stuff.

Which also makes it perfect to discuss over a few beers. And there has been plenty of that over the past week.

What I find most surprising about the whole fiasco is not that newspaper sub-editors have soberly rejected the temptation to go to town with bad headlines (their restraint is to be congratulated and shows the lofty position the game holds in this country), nor that News Limited have portrayed themselves as squeaky clean in the whole matter. No, the thing I find most surprising is that people are surprised that something as heinous as salary-cap breaching is happening at all. Brian Waldron, it seemed from the reporting, is so anomalous in something as pure as Australiansport (yes, it is one word, in the same way as thegameofgolf is one word for Greg Norman) that in Act II he is the villain. In Act I of course he was the premiership hero.

But really: a footy club is cutting corners in an effort to win the flag, build its legend and its supporter base, and its profit? Derrr. But really: a business does not feel morally bound by a fierce desire to uphold the law of the land (or the league)? Derrr. Remember Balzac’s dictum: behind every great fortune lies a great crime.

Some of this was discussed at a very fraternal gathering of the willing at the North Fitzroy Arms on Saturday afternoon where the conversation and the red wine flowed among the Queensland visitors and the locals gathered there – except for Adrian who spent the afternoon on the phone to his bookie. And in a rare form turn around actually won. (He’d have won a lot more had he been ringing Betfair).

After the steak and the Sydney Cup we crossed St Georges Road to the beautiful Brunswick St Oval, with its 1880s grandstand, home of the old Fitzroy, and the new Fitzroy who play in C Section ammos. They were playing Ajax, Melbourne’s Jewish side, coached by that bloke you just can’t keep out of the synagogue, Bernie Sheehy. Bernie Sheehy is one of the world’s finest footy minds and as Irish as the Liffey itself. Also highly positioned in the world’s best lunchers rankings.

Being at that ground and watching community footy (and enjoying everything it is about and stands for) alerts you to the reality that footy played at the highest level – about five tiers above this – has always reflected the values in which it is embedded.

In the late nineteenth century, elite footy in Melbourne (and it was professional) was about geography, and community, and local pride. And some rather dastardly things were done in the name of the local suburb, even one as pure as Fitzroy. It was also about making a quid and you don’t have to look too far to find betting scandals and nobblings and all manner of skullduggery.

These days the fans may think of geography and community and all that is glorious, but those who run the show think about money. Commercial values form the basis of so many assumptions in public thinking, and this is reflected in football.

So when business leaders are being snipped to the tune of millions of dollars for improprieties and collusions, then what do you expect. Business leaders lead. And if that’s business practice in some parts, then some others will take heed. Even those involved in the football business.

What intrigues me is that the early reporting of this suggested The Storm is unique. Pig’s arse. If there’s not a stack of clubs doing this across both footy and rugby league (among those who can afford it) I’ll go he.

There must be a lot of nervous administrators out there. Just wondering how David Gallop is going to manage to keep that lid down on Pandora’s Box.

He’s had enough to do already.

We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV’s Offsiders.

He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids – Theo9, Anna8, Evie6.

He might not be the worst putter in the world but he’s in the worst three.

His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Any one who saw 7.30 report last may have noted the surprise on the Goldman Sachs goons when asked if they had done any thing wrong. Either illegally or morally.

    “Whadda ya mean? I’ll defend myself vigorously in the courts” (Because I have squillions and also heaps of dirt on a lot of influential people)

    It was just like the good old days of the Al Copone trials. The Gangsters are everywhere these days. But surely not in sport.

    Apparently there’s a potentially very good game between Irishtown and Redpa at the Irishtown Recreation Ground on the far north west coast of Tassy this Saturday.

    Hot savs, cold beer and sharp tongues. Thats not footy; or is it?

  2. I’ve been getting all Parallax View. Conspiracies, you know. Can the NRL (and News) afford to have any other teams sprung? I mean, what would, could they do if it transpired that, say, 10 teams last year were over the cap? Especially News. They have gone so hard at Melbourne (and Waldron) that they would look like monumental idiots if it turned out Storm weren’t the only transgressors. I guess a better parallel, and one with less assassinations than the magnificent Parallax View (Vale Loren Singer), would be the mysteriously missing urine samples from the 1984 Olympics. The idealist in me thinks and hopes for “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet” but the pragmatist in me says that the powers-that-be will find a way to make sure that no further scandals ooze out from behind Pandora’s can of worms.

  3. johnharms says:

    Phnatom

    Yes, I agree. As the trust is sucked upt of pro sport, then those who care will be at their local fixtures. Many already are.

  4. The whole Storm issue has opened the Pandora’s box of worms.

  5. johnharms says:

    Tony

    Exactly. The methods of side-stepping the suggested inquiry may influence the future of dancing forever.

    For once I’m hanging out for tominght’s Footy Show.

    Cheers
    JTH

  6. John Butler says:

    JTH & others

    Spot on.

    We’re in a climate where we can’t even put insulation in roofs, or build a school hall, without dodgy operators queuing up to pull a scam, yet nobody seems too fussed. It’s all someone else’s fault apparently.

    Given this, the moral indignation over the Storm seems concocted, and inviting cynicism.

  7. sorry – response 4 should have read “Pandora’s floodgate of worms”. My apologies all.

  8. As I said last week.

    Blatantly flaunting the salary cap to allow new clubs to buy in all the best players in Australia and win a flag.

    What’s all the fuss?

    Sounds very like AFL policy.

  9. Dips,

    ‘Pandora’s floodgate of worms’?

    You haven’t been embibing from a can of trouble have you?

  10. Andrew Starkie says:

    Spot on with the Greek theatre parallel. Waldron is your classic hero turned villain. Arthur Miller would have a field day with this. Willy Loman, Eddie Carbone, John Procter, and now Brian Waldron. Chairman Rob Moodie may emerge from the smoke as the new hero. There’s a screen play in this story.

    Surely no one believes Storm have acted alone here. Or BW for that matter. Clubs in all codes do it if then can. The Storm should’ve given their players job titles like ‘Environmental Ambassador’. Storm went into survival mode very early painting BW as the villain. Tell you what, he’s one smart cookie if he’s concocted this whole drama on his own. How juicy will it be if BW brings other names and clubs down with him? I think you’re right, the NRL won’t want the pandora box opening this year.

    I still think the penalties are too harsh and the impact will affect more than just the Storm. The Storm brought league to a Victorian audience. If they fold or drift in mediocrity, the game may be lost here.

  11. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Where’s there’s money there’s corruption. “Surprise, bloody surprise” is what I said to myself. Sad state of affairs when people try to justify cheating and lying. ” And I’m still looking at you Mick Malthouse.”

    Would love to know if there’s been an increase in the sale of shredders over the last week.

  12. pratt cup anyone ….

    Shame mcguire shame

  13. Peter Flynn says:

    Paying overs has been going since day dot.

    John Wren apparently was a beauty at it.

  14. Tim Ivins says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed offsiders this morning. I felt it was the best analysis of the issue I’ve seen yet. If it’s replayed on ABC2 later in the week I strongly recommend having a look.

  15. Tim,

    Agree. It was to their credit that they had Rebecca Wilson on and then grilled her over relationship with Hartigan. She obviously knew the Q&A was coming given her scene-setter early in the show, but the 5:38 minutes at the end containing her disingenuous self-justifications left me in no doubt that she knew she was on thin ice.

    “I wear my heart on my sleeve”?!?

    Also, should Gerard have put himself in the dock given his own pearl-clutchingly dramatic article in The Drum on Friday the 23rd.

    Offsiders Online.

  16. Also,

    I disagree with Caro about the Essendon, Melbourne and Carlton salary cap breaches.

    “You need better investigators” and “in none of those cases was there a whistleblower, they were uncovered from the outside.”

    Can’t remember what happened with Essendon, but at Melbourne Joe Gutnik owned up out of the blue, and in Carlton’s case the investigation arose out of (allegedly) Fraser Brown going to the AFL to complain that Carlton owed him money and suddenly the AFL discovered contract anomalies. Neither Carlton nor Melbourne first landed in trouble because of AFL investigations.

    Question: How soon before the phrase “Ken Wood ticked it off” becomes a punchline?

  17. Stainless says:

    Spot on JTH. And a very entertaining piece into the bargain.

    Your main point is correct – businesses hate regulation, especially if it deliberately seeks to impede their performance for the sake of encouraging competition. If it’s easy to get around it, with minimal risk of detection, then what will most businesses do?

    I don’t think anyone’s particularly surprised that salary cap rorting is happening, but rather that the Storm got caught.
    Salary caps are great in theory but the myriad means of remunerating players covertly must make them almost impossible to police.

    The examples of previous breaches mentioned in earlier comments appear to have been discovered either through confession or when player queries draw attention to payment anomalies. I’m still trying to fathom why the Storm would keep two sets of paperwork at the club – in adjoining rooms no less! It certainly made the auditor’s job easier.

    If more widespread rorting is discovered, I just hope it doesn’t get to the point where the salary cap is regarded as unworkable and we revert to the “richest rules” model that has rendered competitions like the EPL stultifyingly predictable.

  18. johnharms says:

    Stainless

    I don’t think the ‘richest rules’ model is a chance, mainly because the self-interest of administrators will not be served by such a comp in Australian footy.

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