The Fairfax Sun-Herald had a story to strike fear into the heart of both NRL and AFL administrations – players allegedly
building a war chest to mount a legal challenge to the salary cap rort with
some sympathetic barristers suggesting they have a very strong case. And so
they should too.

In the second decade of John Howard’s prime
ministership, the salary caps’ blatant restraint of trade in both codes is an
anachronism.

While it’s the mungos who might be leading
the charge, the Aussie Rules players should not be far behind with the red rag
of $780 million from Channels Seven and Ten stirring them on.

The distant view of the AFL players’ union from up north is that it
seems a little slow and timid – or is its management captured by the
administration? Whatever the case, human nature won’t let it last. The history
of professional sport suggests most of the money eventually finds its way to
the talent – the people who bring the eyeballs and therefore the dollars to the
game, who have relatively little time to make serious money in their short
careers and who are generally treated by administrations as disposable meat
packs anyway.

One should always be a little wary of
sports money stories such as the Sun-Herald yarn – there’s generally a subtext
about the placement and spin – but taken at face value, the NRL could find
itself in trouble again just after the 2005 season signalled rugby league was
back on the front foot.

The Sun-Herald can reveal a fighting
fund has been established to challenge the legality of the salary cap if
players aren’t satisfied by a new Collective Bargaining Agreement to be struck
between the NRL and the association. A major showdown is on the cards because
the NRL is unlikely to meet the players’ demands for a cap increase.

There remains the air of threat rather than
a promise in Will Swanton’s exclusive, but it seems a decent sort of threat:

Players Association
president Simon Woolford was at pains to say legal action wasn’t the preferred
option of the RLPA, but admitted it was in the pipeline.

“The clubs and
players have been told we need money in the bank if things don’t go our way
with the CBA,” Canberra hooker
Woolford said. “If we don’t get certain things we’re after, we need money
in the bank to take action. We’ve been able to achieve that with record
memberships this year, so we’re ready to go.”

NRL chief executive
David Gallop said last night the game’s governing body would defend the
controversial salary cap in court.

“The mechanisms are
open to challenge but we would certainly defend the reasonableness of the cap
and seek to demonstrate the benefit that it has bought the game,” he said.
“We would be extremely disappointed if it came to that [court action].”

Yes, I’m sure Mr Gallop
and his News Ltd masters would indeed be disappointed – but a large number of AFL players would be
watching with great interest on the sidelines.

Peter Fray

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