In March, swimmer Nick D’Arcy elbows a man in the face in a moment of drunken stupidity and inflicts terrible injuries. A few weeks later, Sydney Swans full-forward Barry Hall, an accomplished amateur boxer, punches an opponent square on the jaw with a blow that several experts later claim could have killed.

D’Arcy fronts an Australian Olympic Committee hearing today to discover whether his suspension from the Olympic team will stand or be overturned. Hall, meanwhile, returns to football on Saturday night after serving a seven-match suspension for his devastating left hook KO of West Coast’s Brent Staker.

If D’Arcy’s ban is upheld by the 14-person AOC committee, the national 200m butterfly champion will not get to swim in Beijing. The tens of thousands of laps he has swum over the past four years, up and back, up and back, often in the pre-dawn dark, will have been for nought. The AOC will hand down what, in Olympic terms, is effectively a four-year ban.

In eight weeks, about the time the Olympics Games are beamed into our lounge rooms each night from Beijing, Hall will be helping Sydney put the finishing touches to its home-and-away season and gearing up for another finals campaign. The hubbub will have died down, his brain explosion will have become a distant memory, fresh dramas involving other high-profile players will headline the sports pages. Life in the AFL will go on.

Meanwhile D’Arcy could be watching the Games from his Gold Coast home, seeing images of that remarkable bird’s-nest building which houses the Olympic pool and wondering what might have been.

The two incidents, and their aftermath, highlight an absurd discrepancy in sporting crime and punishment. The crimes are similar; the punishments way out of kilter.

Yes, D’Arcy belted his former Australian teammate Simon Cowley at the end of a heavy drinking session in a Sydney bar, an incident from which Cowley is still recovering. Yes, in the days that followed, D’Arcy came across as a cocky young punk riding for a fall.

But he is 20. How many of us have done really dumb things after drinking too much – getting behind the wheel of a car and driving when clearly our judgment has been impaired; getting boisterous and a bit lippy in a pub; generally bludgeoning the boundaries of decency and good taste?

High-profile sportsmen are expected to observe a code of behaviour that simply does not apply to other men and women of their age. They are held up to ridiculously high standards that the many in the general community could never hope to live up to. And woe betide them if they fail to meet those standards for the moral police in the media, who have never once fiddled their expense accounts or exaggerated their over-time records, are just waiting to hold them to account.

D’Arcy has been a dill and a dropkick. He deserves our derision – which he has already received in spades – but not a four-year ban. That would be the most brutal king-hit of all.

Charles Happell is a former sports editor of The Age.

UPDATE: Since publishing Crikey’s email edition, the Australian Olympic Committee decided unanimously to dump D’Arcy. The swimmer vows to fight on; he plans to lodge a final appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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