Oct 7, 2009

John Howard transforming NRL: there goes the black fan base

Rugby league has been a dying game for many, many years -- is John Howard really the man to revamp it? It makes even less sense when you consider a large percentage of the hard-core league fan-base is black.

Chris Graham

Tracker managing editor

The news this morning that John Howard is being considered to a head-up a proposed transformation of rugby league was a little alarming, not least of all because of the size of Howard’s head on the front of The Daily Telegraph. The story hit all the News Limited publications, including The Australian, which reported: “The NRL has approached John Howard to chair an independent commission that will overhaul the structure of the game. "The former prime minister is a figurehead many believe would stymie the AFL's foray into league heartland -- Sydney's west -- while unifying the game's fractious set-up between the NRL, the Australian Rugby League, the NSWRL, the Country Rugby League and the Queensland Rugby League." Which may or may not be true. But the fact is, most of us couldn’t care less. The annual Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey conducted by the Australian Sports Commission reveals that the number of people nationally who participated regularly in rugby league in 2007 was less than 180,000 people nationally. That’s only marginally higher than the number of people indulging in Aqua aerobics. Sad to say, rugby league has been a dying game for many, many years. So it begs the question, is Howard really the man to revamp it? It makes even less sense when you consider a large percentage of the hard-core league fan-base is black. And if you thought Howard was on the nose with parts of white Australia, it’s nothing to compared how he smells in black Australia.

Aboriginal people will walk away in protest from anything associated with John Howard. You think I’m exaggerating? When Howard came to power in 1996, for every black worker leaving the Australian Public Service, two joined. By the time Howard left a decade later, two black workers were leaving for every one who joined. Now just imagine what he could do for rugby league! Not that the game actually needs any help in driving black players away. The neighbouring Group 4 division in northern NSW is famous for successfully keeping an Aboriginal team -- the Moree Boomerangs -- out of the local competition for more than a decade. The initial reason given was that it was too far for clubs in the southern part of the region to travel. And then a white Moree club started up, and they were welcomed into the competition. They later folded, but the Boomerangs were still shut out even though they offered to pay travelling team’s costs. Indeed in the last decade country rugby league has seen the expulsion of at least three Aboriginal teams from competitions around NSW. The reason on each occasion -- and I kid you not -- is that the behaviour of players and/or fans was unacceptable ... this from a sport not exactly known for its manners and goodwill. It’s also a sport that has been prepared to watch the game die among black communities. The league competition in the Far West region of NSW, which takes in Aboriginal towns like Walgett, Bourke, Brewarrina and Lightning Ridge, collapsed in 1991. The Country Rugby League, whose job it is to safe-guard the sport in the bush, did precisely nothing about it until 2007, when an Aboriginal group emerged to try and provide their kids with some sort of organised sport. Then, the CRL suddenly re-emerged, and booked all of the grounds around the region for the year in an attempt to squash the start-up competition. My point is, racism in rugby league – especially in the bush -- is overt. They don’t even try to hide it. The AFL by comparison, is widely regarded as the most Aboriginal friendly sport in Australia. Indeed Aboriginal participation is regularly celebrated and honoured. For more than a decade, the AFL has been playing an annual "Indigenous game", a celebration of the contribution of black players. Today, it’s major production called "Dreamtime at the G" and is preceded by a celebration at Federation Square. By contrast, the ARL begrudgingly agreed to allow an Aboriginal exhibition match at last year’s World Cup. It had to be dragged to the idea kicking and screaming. Since 2001, the AFL has promoted a bi-annual Indigenous All-Stars game in Darwin. It is a major game on the pre-season calendar. The AFL also pumps a substantial amount of time, resources and funds into developing Indigenous players through the AFL Foundation, and Gerard Neesham’s Clontarf Academy in Western Australia has been specifically designed up to help young Aboriginal players into the AFL, and into a decent education. There is no league equivalent. League is only now starting to play catch up on the AFL. The NRL has recently adopted a Reconciliation Action Plan (who hasn’t?) and thrown its support behind the Close the Gap campaign. But the governing body of the game -- the ARL -- does very little and league generally has a long, long way to go before it comes anywhere close to the AFL. Of course, outstanding Aboriginal stars like Ricky Walford and Dave Liddiard have been doing wonderful things in league for more than a decade, but they’ve been fighting an uphill battle to drag the game into the 21st century. I really don’t see how John Howard could possibly assist that cause.

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37 thoughts on “John Howard transforming NRL: there goes the black fan base

  1. Rod Thiele

    Perhaps this article could have been titled “Why AFL is better than NRL”. I don’t know about anyone else, but this just seems to be a piece written by an AFL fan, using today’s story as an excuse to criticise Rugby League.

  2. stephen

    Rod maybe you’re right, but I’d certainly feel marginalised by the NRL if Howard had any offical role. There are many of us regardless of race etc, who remember Howard as a child abuser (what else would you call someone who imprisons children in concentration camps, without charge?), and a war monger (what else would you call someone who either misunderstood or corrupted inteloligence to send us into an unjustified and unwinnable war, against the better judgement of 80% of the population?)
    Please, please, please NRL, kept the nerdy twerp out of it!!!!

  3. Liz45

    Rugby League deserves all the criticism it gets. When the Bulldogs disgrace happened, and the reaction to it, I resolved never to watch or listen to a match again. I’ve remained consistent, only ‘weakening’ with the Dragons, and they’re one of a few teams who signed a commitment to stamp out violence towards women. I supported Parramatta to win the grand final, as my late mum had a soft spot for them. The behaviour and the demeanour of rugby league players is repugnant to me, as are many who support them to the extent of excusing the revolting and violent behaviour of TOO MANY!

    Howard would also be an appeaser and an apologist for the vile behaviour of too many rugby league players, and the pathetic excuses of too many followers, as he has been for everything and anything rotten in the country, in fact the whole stinking world. The main one being his inate racism towards aboriginal people; the illegal intervention of the NT after almost 12 yrs of racist neglect; the locking up of asylum seekers(that he helped create their need to leave their home countries) until they were driven medically mad, his sexist and discriminatory attitude to women, and his cruel and inhumane treatment of workers via his Worstchoices legislation. On equal par was his illegal invasion of Iraq, and the immoral and horrific destruction to both Afghanistan and Iraq via his slavish following of George W. I can’t think of anyone else who’s public persona is falsefully ‘created’ while behind the scenes he’s responsible for untold misery, death and destruction. He and the NRL deserve each other! They’ll ‘work together’ in perfect harmony I’m sure, and their ‘togetherness’ will only turn many others away.

    I’ll be even more surprised if there’s one woman on this commission or board!

  4. Rodney McDonell

    This has been on of the biggest loads of rubbish i have skipped through in recent memory. Have you not even paid attention to what role Howard, if any, will be playing within a unified rugby league in Australia? Chairman! A Chairman wouldn’t run the game, they are simply an impartial viewer and keeper of the peace for what would be an independent commission. The black community i don’t think will care either way.

    You seem to also totally ignore the statesman ship that he brings to anything he does and the possible business and community contacts that Howard would likely bring to the game.

    I think Rod was right when he said that all this article tried to do was kick rugby league in the guts. If you wanted to write an article about how rugby league in Australia has neglected it’s black following then write it, but don’t hide behind another motive.

  5. stephen

    Rodney, Howard is no statesman. He’s a small minded, devisive blight on Australian history.
    If I was a black fella I’d be wondering why he couldn’t say sorry. After all the sky didn’t fall in when Kruddy said it. No, no, no, lest we forget.

  6. Pedro

    Stephen (1.39pm) what a disgrace – of course we could say Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, and even your Kevin Rudd are child abusers for not trying to help the aboriginal children who suffer every day, but that would be petty and would not help one bit, it is also not the argument.

    Perhaps if you kept your party political views out this discussion we may get a constructive debate out of this and get the best outcome for Rugby League. If we can regain the ascendancy over AFL then it would be very worthwhile.

    As it is, short of appointing Bob Hawke and or Paul Keating to balance the possibility of Howards’ appointment and satisfy your ALP pettiness, it is safe to say you will not give an inch.

    I think this is a shame because there are talented people in politics from all sides who could do some good, and in Queensland, from the ALP side (as an aexample) we had Clem Jones and more recently Terry Mackenroth who did good jobs in sports administration – and no conservative voters objected!

    But by your argument (immature at best) you should fight appointments every step if they do not represent your preferred party, even if it may improve the game.

    Not a bad argument if you want things to stay the same, not nearly a good enough argument if you want the game to grow.

  7. stephen

    Excuse me Pedro, but who said I wanted a politician as Chairman of the NRL? I mentioned Krudd because it was relevant to the authors point. I think your own partisanship is showing through.
    As for me being a disgrace, if speaking out against inhumanity and stupidity is disgraceful I’ll wear it. But I suspect the bigger disgrace is rationalising things because they suit one’s own short sighted and short term interests.
    I also happen to think Howard was extremely divisive and short sighted and therefore unsuitable for the role. If you’d like me to elaborate I’m very happy to:)

  8. Heathdon McGregor

    Ask any fan of the VFL how useful an independant commission is in dictating to clubs and serving the dollar. Ground rationalisation, Footscray, Fitzroy……

    Rodney: Andrew Demetriou has the equivalent role in the AFL and he controls all. I believe the problem is Mr Howard’s Statesmanship(I’m sorry have we got the same guy here) and how he lacks it in relation to race relations and the treatment of Black fellas.

  9. Tom McLoughlin

    I’m a refugee from VFL religion in western victoria up here in NSW. I enjoyed the festival of the boot part 1 and 2 this year being AFL and League respectively. Real honest I thought.

    The Eels PR was a God send to League without a doubt. The Telegraph full page of the happy loyal WAGS of the Eels was the trumps after a sad bizarre season of bad PR.

    So just when league get one hand hold on the public’s good will here in Sydney, they look like getting the clammy embrace of a loser like Howard.

    Truth is Howard needs league more than vice versa. He will divide the supporters. You can’t airbrush the Iraq war. It’s for keeps and it will be on Howard’s record forever. And so it should.

    It would be a big mistake for League to go in this direction and Howard would exploit you lot for sure. Do you think he can keep the peace really? Do you really think business will cosy up to him? Remember the next likely Premier of NSW either side of politics will be no friend to Howard.

    There is another even bigger issue for League and that’s the growing awareness of undetected head injury in all contact sports – one serious knock a season for 10 seasons gives you what – Muhammad Ali staggers? That’s the next big challenge for League after it sorts out it’s gender justice issues. Howard can’t help with any of that.

    But hey if you want to accelerate AFL in western sydney, and their gutsy womens competition up here, go right ahead.

  10. munners

    I agree with Mr Graham, if you want to expand the Sydney-centric game of NRL, you’d have better luck appointing Humphry B. Bear as a Chairman. The game is a flawed mess, and merely soaks up good AFL talent like Inglis and Falou – such players would be better served, as would the general public, playing AFL. Disagree all you want, but we all know I’m right. let’s resign the silly game, and silly former Prime Ministers like John Winston Howard to annals of history and be done with it.

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