The timing of Kevin07’s warning to sporting bodies over government funding if they don’t address drinking problems among their players couldn’t have been better – it came on the very day the double standards and weak approach by NRL clubs and officials was on full parade. Again.

The Parramatta Eels have taken over from the Bulldogs as the team with the most serial offenders when it comes to players behaving badly. The way the Eels are going they will soon give the West Coast Eagles a run for their money in the Award For The Club With The Most Players Behaving Badly.

Now Parramatta has been caught misleading its fans, and the game generally, on the discipline issue. In December the game’s worst offender, Tim Smith, was ordered off the grog until the end of the 2008 season, and Ben Cousins-style rushed into a secret rehabilitation clinic. But yesterday a caller to radio 2GB in Sydney revealed that Smith and four other Eels players were at a well known Sydney watering hole until early Saturday morning – and drinking of course!

But what about the famed, trail blazing ban on drinking for the 2008 season? Well apparently that was dropped – secretly – on “medical advice” so he could have a few drinks over Christmas. But Eels CEO Denis Fitzgerald is not alone in his shame.

In the Weekend Australian, Broncos Darren Lockyer claimed “player behaviour is much better than it was 10 or so years ago”. Right beside Lockyer’s comments the newspaper listed no less than 16 alcohol related incidents involving NRL players in the last 12 months.

Last week the NRL went down the same path as the AFL and insisted it was up to clubs to deal with player misbehaviour, a response that drew criticism from the game’s former supremo, Ken Arthurson.

The simple reality is that all the best efforts of the NRL to promote the 2008 season, including the game’s centenary celebrations, are being sabotaged week-in-week-out by some of the worst headlines the game has ever seen. And it’s generally the same clubs, same players.

Sadly, Kevin07’s threats over government funding might not make much difference with either the NRL or the AFL. The Australian Sports Commission last year gave the NRL and the AFL only about $400,000 each.

But what might make the nation’s major football codes take notice would be a threat to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport – along the lines of the bans on cigarette sponsorship – if they don’t get their act together.

Peter Fray

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