Last night the standing of the International Rugby League Board, and the Australian Rugby League, sunk to its lowest ever level – if it is possible to sink lower than it already was.
The international game’s prestigious awards night, the “Golden Boots Awards”, was held in Sydney, with Darren Lockyer rightly taking out the major award for a second time.
But the embarrassment came when it was announced that the Dragons’ Fijian born winger, Wes Naiqama, had been awarded the “Developing Nations Player of the Year” award.
Naiqama was in the headlines just hours before the awards ceremony – for all the wrong reasons.
He has an appalling driving record. He is banned from driving until 2013 following four serious driving offences. Yet last week he was photographed by a Sydney Daily Telegraph photographer driving in Surry Hills.
And the whole sorry story took up a full page in yesterday’s Telegraph sports lift-out, complete with incriminating photo. In the story, a senior police officer confirmed an investigation was under way, and that if proven, he faces the real possibility of a jail term.
Predictably, Dragons officials threatened “dire consequences” – including tearing up Naiqama’s contract.
But none of this washed with the International and Australian Rugby League Officials last night. Naiqama was not present – but was still given one of rugby league’s prestigious awards.
Both the NSW and Queensland Government have been under enormous public pressure to take tougher action against young, dangerous drivers following a series of tragic accidents claiming the lives of four young men and women. Sport needs to play a role by ensuring young players set the right example when it comes to obeying the traffic laws.
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Yet rugby league has given a major international award to a player who has an appalling driving record and is facing a possible three-month jail term for flouting a court imposed seven-year suspension.
At the very least the award should have been withheld until the latest allegation is confirmed. Even then, the photographic evidence, and that of the photographer himself, is overwhelming.
The sooner the NRL, including News Limited, takes control of the whole game in Australia, the better. This latest embarrassment is surely the last straw.