April 19, 2004 | Jeff Wall

The case for a Bill of Rights – thanks to the AFL and NFL

UNTIL recently I was never attracted to the idea of a Bill of Rights to “guarantee” our basic freedoms, including the freedom of speech.
The antics of the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party in threatening to expel any member who dared criticise it, notwithstanding the merit of the criticism, got me thinking.
But the even more oppressive attitude of the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL) has convinced me that the sooner we can a Bill of Rights the better…………………flawed and limited though it might inevitably be.
We are all able to call John Howard, or Mark Latham, or Peter Hollingworth, or Bob Brown, or any other political figure, or appointee, what we like. We can even criticise the Judiciary and its decisions. We can attack the clergy – especially if they are Archbishops or Bishops! We can attack Alan Jones, or John Laws (or both).
Probably, and I am about to put this to the test, most of us can criticise those most protected of all species, the umpires, referees and administrators of the AFL and the NRL.
But if we are players, or coaches, or club officials, then we do so at our considerable financial peril!
When I read last week that Essendon’s captain, James Hird, was facing a hefty fine, or even a suspension, for comments he made about an umpire, I naturally assumed he had abused the umpire during a game, and had called him the usual expletives and more.
So I enquired further. Hird’s comments were made on the AFL version of “The Footy Show”. That really made me enquire further – what could possibly be said on a TV program that could cause so much offence, and fill up pages and pages of Melbourne press space?
Hird’s comment was that the umpiring of a particular umpire in a match he played in was “quite disgraceful”. Really?
For that “unpardonable sin”, Hird had to make a private apology on Monday, a public apology on Tuesday, and then front the AFL Commissioners – and face the prospect of legal action by the “offended umpire”.
The Commissioners fined Hird $20,000, and effectively gave him three years community service by requiring that he undertake a “mentoring” program with umpires for three years! And he had to make another apology last night on the same program as the original “offence” occurred. For good measure, Essendon was fined $5,000 as well.
Whether or not the umpiring was “quite disgraceful” is apparently irrelevant.
But what is our so called “free society” coming to?
The answer is that, at least when it concerns our major football code’s, freedom of speech when it involves any form of criticism of umpires, referees or administrators, is ruthlessly crushed, no matter how valid it might be.
The National Rugby League is no better than its southern counterpart. Indeed, its record is even more intolerant and oppressive. Even criticising the video referee for getting it wrong attracts a fine!
Why do the highly-paid players, and well-resourced clubs and officials continue to tolerate this totalitarian nonsense? Why won’t one player, or club, or official, test the arrogance of their codes administrators in the law courts? The outcome might be very interesting – and even more embarrassing for the AFL and the NRL.
Abusing an official on the field of play is one thing, but saying on a television program that his or her performance was “quite disgraceful” surely does not warrant what James Hird has been put through.
A Bill of Rights might not be the answer, but it would at least put a brake on the growing oppression of free speech that is further sullying the already tarnished image of both rules and league.
The sooner the better.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 4:31 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. It’s quite simple. All the examples of free speech you mention are in the realm of democracy and civil society. However all those in the football world are now totally immersed in what is a huge business, and business operates in a good old authoritarian manner, backed up by the laws of contract that underpin the “free” market. It’s the same mindset that tries to stop social service agencies from criticising the government if they take up government service-delivery contracts.
    The place given to democratic values in our society is actually very constrained. Most people earn their living from what is called in legal terms a “master-servant” relationship. This is all presented as being necessary for efficiency.

    Comment by Alex McConnell — April 19, 2004 @ 7:51 pm

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