History was made this week when ‘rugby league’, ‘Voldemort’ and ‘free speech’ were used in the same press conference.
And while I rarely venture into the cauldron of rugby league commentary, it’s hard to resist a word combination like that.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler was having a bit of a snot after copping a $10,000 fine for having a bit of a snot about the refereeing in the Bulldogs’ first round loss to Penrith. Keep up, because this is one wacky ride.
Dessie’s no stranger to the dark art of bagging the ref. I could pay off my mortgage with the fines he’s copped for his assorted curses.
This particular rant attracted more attention than usual, partly due to its content, but also because it was the first test of the National Rugby League’s new rules on acceptable discourse.
Whereas before the line was drawn at excessive criticism or an attack on a ref’s integrity, as of this season you’re not allowed to even mention the ref. Many media outlets have labeled it a flat out censorship policy.
There’s no silencing Des, though. Reaching into his media bag of tricks, he invoked another who shall not be named. And article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“I clearly understand the policy,” he said. “You can’t say anything about the Voldemorts and you just can’t comment. If you’re an advocate for free speech it’s not too good.”
It was stirring stuff, a little reminiscent of this guy.
The NRL crumbled like an English batting attack and took precisely no action. Despite likening match officialdom to the devil incarnate, Dessie escaped further sanction.
But for all the hyperbole, or hyperbowl as Julia Gillard used to call it, Des has a point.
When player and coach performances are raked over from every angle and subject to the most searing public scrutiny, why are the referees such a protected species?
Not so, says the NRL’s head of football, Todd Greenberg. There’s no protection racket going on here.
Todd gives heaps of reasons for the rule change. It’s to support the refs, provide leadership for refs, encourage more people to be refs, protect the integrity of the game, bring the NRL into line with other codes, blah-de-blah-de-blah.
“Being critiqued by coaches publicly is not the way the game should be played,” he said. “Coaches and clubs have used referees to their advantage to deflect attention or steer the debate a certain way.”
Which is where I fell off my chair laughing. Because Todd used to be the Bulldogs CEO. Where he stood by all of Dessie’s outbursts. Hence the picture on the left.
But really, so what if coaches play Pin the Blame on the Ref to deflect attention from their own performances? People aren’t stupid. They see through stunts like that in time.
There’s an Aesop’s Fable about it. Where the shepherd boy even looks a bit like Des.
So, I reckon rather than muzzling the coaches, we should go to the other extreme. Let them have free rein to say what they like. Let them be judged in the court of public opinion.
Everyone loves a circus, after all.