‘Parochialism and Worse’ by Lyle Beaton

At times one despairs about the quality of reporting on rugby league in this country.

Game 3 of State of Origin will be one of the biggest sporting events of the Australian calendar in 2015 – if not the biggest. The match is a sell-out. Again. This means that basically bar a handful of unsellable members seats, rugby league has sold out easily the two biggest stadia in Australia – ANZ Stadium in Sydney and the Melbourne Cricket Ground – together with the game’s spiritual home in Brisbane, Lang Park; a total attendance of over 223,000 spectators for three matches.

Likely a peak of more than 4.5 million Australians – not counting those watching at Origin parties and in pubs and clubs around the country – will watch the match on television. This will be, with the other games of the series, the highest rating television on Australia in 2015.

Such an extraordinary amount of community involvement and support might suggest that the rugby league writing fraternity would be drawn from the significant part of the Australian populace that really do actually like and follow rugby league.

Instead, rugby league writing contains many who prefer other sports (but can’t make a living commenting on them, often out of lack of interest, thus providing them with a personal agenda against rugby league to carry around), and those who remain invested in producing sensationalist rubbish which cast unwarranted aspersions on the character of the game. Witness the latest “contributor” in this area, News.com’s Dan Elsom.

Mr Elsom took the view on the weekend that trying to exploit emotion around the deaths of two sporting identities in Australia – Ron Clarke and Phil Walsh – was an appropriate thing to do. He basically suggested that AFL supporters were more respectful than those in rugby league, based on the flimsy evidence of two separate tributes to sporting identities.

Frankly, it was a shameful thing to do and barely dignifies a response. Mr Elsom ignored the facts that:-

– a tiny proportion of an immense crowd of 91,513 people at Game 2 of Origin interrupted a minute’s silence for Ron Clarke (a fact which was howled down by all within rugby league later);

– perfectly respected minute’s silences at other recent rugby league games (including for the late rugby league player James Ackerman at Brisbane’s Lang Park) have been observed; and

– rugby league has similarly acknowledged Phil Walsh’s death by holding its own (again, impeccably observed) minute’s silences at recent NRL matches.

Presumably, Mr Elsom also missed events during the Rugby League World Cup in 2013 (when the Steve Prescott memorial at Hull was so moving) nor has he noticed the impeccable observance of rugby league minute’s silences at major games around the world, including for example in front of larger crowds at Wembley than at the MCG for Game 2 of Origin this year.

Mr Elsom might also reflect on the fact that the silences observed in the AFL for Phil Walsh related to a high profile member of the AFL fraternity, whereas all of the above silences respected in rugby league (leaving aside a couple of drunks at one match which commenced at nearly 8:30pm at night), were for people from outside the NRL fraternity.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Mr Elsom identifies strongly as a rugby union follower on his twitter account. Rugby league has been putting up with bigoted commentary from the press in many countries for many years, regularly at the hands of supposed fair minded rugby union writers.

The main broadcaster of rugby league in Australia, however, Channel Nine is also not above such petty actions.

Witness the deliberately sensationalist timing of the Alex McKinnon interview, focusing heavily on the actions of Queensland captain Cameron Smith immediately after the tackle which left McKinnon injured, which ran on Channel Nine’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening – some three nights out from the deciding State of Origin match in Brisbane.

Whether or not the timing was coincidental or otherwise, a fair minded person could only ask the question why has this been brought into the public domain at this time? The answer, regrettably, is obvious (despite claims it relates to the timing of a book launch).

Perhaps worse in terms of the rules of fair reporting, 60 Minutes did not even approach Smith for a response, so as to give some balance to the coverage. That a program once held up as a model for news reporting could descend so far since its peak in the 1980s is a separate story for another time.

This sort of appalling exercise in parochialism is what seems to define rugby league “reporting” at this time of year. It does the game no favours, but simply reinforces worn prejudices which paint rugby league as something far less than it is – an honest, character forming sport, which has had a long legacy of integrity in its dealings with people from all walks of life and which has brought a bit of light into the darkness for many throughout its 120 year existence.

by Lyle Beaton