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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.



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.

  11. Barry 09

    What a joke ? howard ??? he would better to coach the Australian Cricket Team, with his cricket skills. One way to kill NRL, just like he killed the Liberal party.

  12. Pedro

    You’re not excused Stephen, you are a disgrace. Anyone who uses kids abuse for the sake of winning an argument is scum, pure scum.

    Either talk to the point or don’t, either way I’m not wasting any more time on rubbish like you.

    On the topic of league, we had a great final series, great crowd attendances, and at long last no off field dramas. But we have to do better.

    whether Howard can contribute who knows, but I’d like to see the model and hear what he has planned if he gets the nod. Until then, this is nothing more than kite flying for kicks.

  13. stephen

    Pedro I don’t care wether you excuse me or not, and I’m not scum and you’re an angry bully.

  14. SBH

    So I guess you won’t keep using (as you’ve done in your 2 previous opsts) child abuse to attack Stephen then Pedro?

    While your standing up for kiddie mate just remember two things about your runtish hero:

    1 – he locked up children – often without their parents or relatives because it played well to a racist electorate

    2 – he ignored EVER SINGLE ONE of the 97 recommendations of the ‘little Children Are Sacred’ report because it played well to a racist electorate

    I guess that makes him pure scum by your book then?

    Crikey Did you have to put him in a Saints jumper?? Haven’t we suffered enough?

  15. Tom McLoughlin

    Didn’t some Liberal MPs in the govt actually cross the floor over the child abuse constituted by children in detention – these kids who were turning into limp rag dolls from psychological illness for being locked up in a gaol for no reason?

    I’m pretty sure they did, or forced Howard to back down, so the legal facts actually are with Stephen. It was “child abuse” of kids of asylum seekers protected by a treaty we signed up to. An egregious error of public policy let alone ethics.

  16. michael james

    Oh dear, it would appear that Chris Graham (who the hell is he anyway) doesn’t like John Howard.

    Its not about the man’s politics, it’s about what he could possibly bring to the table as chairman of an industry which is particularly ‘troubled’, to put it mildly.

    The skills and abilities nurtured by a lifetime in politics at its highest and most Darwinian are probably the same skills needed to try and drag the game kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

    Yes, people criticised him for being too poll driven (otherwise known as being responsive to what the community wants) but he was successful in attracting the majority of voters for over a decade by satisfying their expectations.

    Right now the NRL needs a swift kick in the bum for failing to understand how its players and management behaviour is alienating the very people it needs to engage with to ensure that it has a future.

    Perhaps Howard can bring his hard earned expertise to bear on the problem, and perhaps he may succeed, or he may fail. But judge the man on what he does, not on his politics, which is now past.

  17. SBH

    No, you’ve missed the point Michael James, Howard’s problem will be that he spent a political lifetime stirring up racial dissension and that’s not going to help him save a game with lots of black adherents

  18. jchercelf

    WHAT, not an ambassador to the UK or somewhere – poor John.


  19. John Ryan

    Another article by a Melbourne centric AFL lover from Crikey, you mention 2 Aboriginals playing NRL, for Christ sake how petty can you get, there’s a bloody sight more than that and they are working to help Aboriginals with foundations ect.
    The ARL does not run Rugby League, the NRL does,as for Howard, no, We need someone with long term vision not a loser from the Libs.
    Don,t you people at Crikey have anyone who can write about the NRL without the usual dying game crap,or who are spruking for the Gold Coast AFL club,the NRL has just had its best year on the field it was not so crash hot off it but it will be fixed up.
    Stick to the code that has cover ups down to an art form mate,the AFL I,m sure you will be very happy

  20. RaymondChurch

    Well Pedro, abusive and big noting as usual, but then you would know all about scum and rubbish, take a look in the mirror to remind yourself!!!!!!!

  21. Nadia David

    Chris, there’s an Aboriginal league competition every year in NSW. I can’t remember what it’s called, unfortunately. The last few years, it’s been held at Redfern (the Redfern All Blacks keep winning the comp, so they keep getting to host it), and draws league teams from all over NSW, including Moree, Taree, Dubbo, Wagga, Broken Hill etc.

    Just wanted to mention that since you said league had no equivalent to the Aboriginal AFL comps. Not that I think the NRL has anything to do with the Aboriginal league comp – I’m pretty sure it’s organised by an Aboriginal committee.

  22. meski

    Stephen – please don’t call him a nerd! Some of us have aspirations to nerdhood.

    Rodney – yes, whilst a chairman does not run the game, you do tend to look at the position as being representative. Would you be happy, for instance, with the ex-chairman of James Hardie being the chairman of NRL?

  23. stephen

    Meski … good point many nerds are lovable. I tried to qualify it with the twerp thing, but that’s unfair to twerps too.

  24. jossy

    Pedro comments:

    Back in the real world, didn’t the NRL powers that be see what Howard’s Workchoices policies did to the Liberal Party’s vote amongst the so-called “Howard battlers” in Western Sydney?
    At a time that the AFL is forging ahead with locating a team in Western Sydney I would have thought the last thing Rugby League would want is to associate itself with a politician who has alienated a large part of it’s traditional support base.

  25. Liz45

    MICHAEL JAMES – Chris Graham is the editor of the National Indigenous Times(unless there’s more than one of that name?) a paper that covers indigenous news, views, issues such as racism and all topics relevant to aboriginal peoples’ lives/politics/health/education/governments etc. I suggest you read it regularly! I do, and I find it educational and engaging.

    The thuggery exercised by the Immigration Dept re its behaviours and attitudes to traumatized people, particularly children seeking asylum is still coming to the public’s attention. Women were also forced into giving birth with male guards handcuffed to them on some occasions, and there were also women who had caesarian sections that were not authorized by them. Keep in mind, that these women were denied the comfort of their husband/partner at this time, and at least one was locked up with her newborn for the next 10 months – under Howard’s watch! Cornelia Rau was manhandled by male guards while in the shower(Baxter) and was dragged out with little effort to show respect, dignity or even covering up her nakedness – it was on film on a TV documentary! I still have it! There are children who are still receiving psychological or psychiatric care due to Howard’s revolting policies. That’s child abuse, and I’ll be reminding people from now until I die what a racist, divisive and cruel ‘person’ he is. I realise that it’s confronting to know that your hero was a mongrel, but there’s too many factual cases that I’ve followed, researched, including “As a last resort” . The investigation into the detention of children – this is not the behaviour of a leader who promotes a ‘fair go’ and ‘traditional family values’? When families engage in imprisoning children, it’s called child abuse – when Prime Ministers do it on a grand scale, it’s called ‘crimes against humanity’ which is an international crime/s. Julian Burnside QC could inform you of the relevant Criminal Act!

    My opinion of rugby league players in general (I know that there are decent blokes, but, in my view, remaining silent is being an accessory after the crime when it comes to violent crimes against women and girls.) 2009 has resulted in a litany of attacks, rapes and domestic violence abuses – I’ll resume my interest in the NRL when they start to behave like decent human beings, instead of allowing such ‘people’ to get away with criminal behaviour. It pleases me to see the number of indigenous players in the AFL in Victoria(which also has blemishes on its record/s) and of course up north, young indigenous boys and girls play AFL too!

    You’d think that out of (now) 22 million, the NRL would be able to find half a dozen people who’d unite players and supporters alike; show positive, non-sexist/non-racist behaviours, and encourage the involvement of all peoples of the country, black and white. If I was an indigenous person, I’d turn my back on Howard at every opportunity too!

  26. bakerboy

    The NRL is stuffed no matter who runs it. It has been dying the death of a thousand cuts since News Ltd and others tried to steal the game in 1996 by forming Super League. The continuous parade of moronic players behaving badly just speeds up the demise of the game. I’m from Brisbane and I dislike the Broncos because they were one of the first privately owned Super League teams. If you want to see the future of NRL, check the figures of how many young kids play which games. Alex

  27. John Roberts

    Hey Pedro,

    You criticise Stephen:

    ‘You’re not excused Stephen, you are a disgrace. Anyone who uses kids abuse for the sake of winning an argument is scum, pure scum.’

    What do you think then, of how John Howard used the ‘Children Overboard’ politically to win an election?

  28. John Ryan

    I think you may find Bakerboy that the numbers of kids playing the game of Rugby League is at record levels,funy how the NRL is stuffed because you have an axe to grind.
    I could have sworn they just had their best year ever,still your par for the course with the deathriders,see you in another 100 yrs

  29. Dermot McGuire

    what can an ex politician with no expertise in league and no useful skills bring to the ARL?

  30. Tiffany McComsey

    This past weekend was the Annual NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout. You can see coverage of this in the Aboriginal owned national newspaper, the only other national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander focused newspaper in circulation next to the one you are editor of, the National Indigenous Times. This year’s Knockout had the largest number of teams participating in it and the men’s team that won the carnival was Walgett BAC. The women’s team that won was the Waterloo Storm.

    While what you point to is the racism that exists in some league areas and most likely reflects some of the internal dynamics of the NRL I think you are comparing apples to oranges when it comes to the NRL losing its black fanbase if Howard were to be involved and the Aboriginal exodus from the public service. Despite problems and accusations about racism in the NRL there continues to be a large number of children (boys and girls), youths and young adults who train each week to play in competitions over the weekend and many young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys who hope to become professional players. Many who even play over in the UK. Racism in sport is not new and that is something in itself that needs to be addressed.

    In Redfern the Indigenous Land Corporation has purchased the site of the former Redfern Public School where the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) is being developed. Of the partners involved in are NASCA (National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy) and the Llyod McDermott Rugby Development Team (that focuses on Rugby Union). And if you look at the board of the NCIE you will see Sam Jeffries, Peter Shergold, Sol Bellear and others.

    If anything the NRL, at least in Sydney, faces stiffer competition through the rise of other sports and Aboriginal children and youth turning to these other sports, in particular soccer.

  31. wyane

    I know I shouldn’t post before reading the article (no, keep reading please) … but that front page says it all for me (ok, it’s the Terror and their readers think that that man is some sort of, ummm … well, a good honest Australian, so perhaps there’s not as much to this as there may seem).

    For me, 2009 was the first year that I haven’t attended an NSWRFL / NSWRL / ARL / NRL match since 1986 (due to being OS for much of the season).

    If this is as bad as it looks, perhaps I’ve attended my last match ever. Sad.

  32. Chris Graham

    I’m not quite sure how it became accepted wisdom that I’m an AFL nut. I’ve been to about five AFL games in my life (and watched less on television).

    I grew up with league, and loved the game (reallllly loved it… I was a nightmare around state of origin time). But I walked away from the game a few years back because it’s a sport rife with racism (at the administrative level) and populated (predominantly) by meatheads and goons who behave like cavemen (particularly towards women).

    For the record, I actually play and follow ice hockey – specifically, the Canberra Knights in the Australian Ice Hockey League.

    Nadia, the competition you’re referring to is the Aboriginal Knockout. It’s not comparable to what the AFL does because as you correctly note, it’s run by Aboriginal people.

    And thanks Liz45… appreciate the defence… GO THE CANBERRA KNIGHTS!!!

  33. Chris Graham

    And sorry John Ryan, I know you love the game (and good luck to you), but the participation statistics being claimed by the ARL in league in 2008 are complete rubbish. They’re inflating them by including schooling programs etc. In short they’re claiming massive increases which simply haven’t occurred. But even on their own inflated figures the participation rate is terrible. And the people who need to bear responsibility for that are the game’s administrators… the people who run the ARL, the CRL… and the administrators at the group level who’ve all but destroyed a sport (in particular in the bush) which they claim they love.

  34. gef05

    Chris, what is your take on what Chris Binge has to say about “learning from that stuff”?


    It seems there’s at least two issues here – real problems with the clubs, and real problems with the sport.

  35. Chris Graham

    Thanks for posting the story GEF05. Interesting read.

    There are real problems with teh clubs – black and white. And it relates to lack of support base. Inverell, for example, couldn’t field a team recently in the Gruop 19 competition – it has a regional population of 15,000.

    And despite that, country rugby league administrator still reject Aboriginal clubs. They’d rather see the game die than have black clubs in the competition.

    For me, this paragraph from your link sums it up best: “Mr Binge said he felt United had to be better behaved than other clubs in the NRRRL, to prove the naysayers and the cynics wrong.”

    The double standard is enormous.

  36. Peppers

    Chris – no mention of the Aboriginal All Stars game ORGANISED BY THE NRL that will kick off the season next year?

    Also up here on the North Coast the Northern United aboriginal league team finished second in the local competition in its first season. By all reports they have a very good relationship with the governing body, the local media and the other clubs. And if you were at Maclean on grand final day to see the mixed crowd just there to enjoy a great day of bush footy then you may think twice about whether this sport is ‘dying.’

    Also I know there is a lot more that you are not letting on about the Moree Boomerangs situation. So to claim that as part of you racism argument is pretty weak.

    I will stick to my dying game that just recorded attendance and television records (and also participation records contrary to your previous misnomer) this season.

    p.s also it is interesting you hold the AFL up as a bastion of all things pure and proper from a racial point of view. Former Essendon player Michael Long didn’t look too enamoured with the state of race relations in the ‘indigenous’ game.

  37. storm

    No way.Not Howard.Howard is a terrible leader, just look at the rabble he’s left behind with the liberal party.Didnt know when to leave & handover the leadership.Howard is the typical little twerp with an inferiority complex who demands power (uses it badly) & tries to hold onto it at all costs.Bad choice.Engage Howy at your own peril ARL/NRL.His selection will surely marginalise Aboriginals & blue collar workers, two very important/crucial compontents in the successful formula of rugby league.The nitwit who suggested Howard should be bannished from league on high treason for trying to destroy one of Austrailia’s favorite sports.

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