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Call it off: This is one opponent we can’t afford to run into

And that was from standing around having canapes and toasting the happy couple, not from one infected player quite innocently getting down and dirty with 29 others before mingling with others socially.

It is against the backdrop of those events that I ask the NRL and the AFL again: WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???? How, in good conscience, can you proceed to play when you not only endanger the players but everyone in their families, everyone they are associated with?

Every other professional sports league in the world, and most amateur ones, have shut down immediately because it is the right thing to do, but Australia is somehow different? Our blokes won’t get it because you’re telling them to go straight home from the game? And who do they see there? No-one? Or do they see their wives and their children? And who have they seen that day?

I get that this is a business, and enormous amounts of money are at stake. But, too bad. The Governor of New York, where cases doubled from 1000 on Tuesday to 2,000 on Thursday and have even been reported in their prison system, put it well: “The crisis at hand is a public health crisis. Once we get past that, we’ll deal with the economic crisis.”

I get that people are talking about the costs of shutting things down. Can we focus on the costs of not shutting things down? There is a chance, just a chance, that Australia can flatten our infection curve enough so that we won’t overwhelm the hospital system. Professional sports like the NRL and AFL, which have been so exemplary on so many fronts of community action in recent years, need to do their part. That includes not getting infected yourselves, but also setting the right example. Our best chance of flattening the curve is establishing a non-contact world. Your actions are entirely inimical to that. Call off the jam, you bastards!

That old chestnut

Dear TFF,
Sir/Madam
Will the Rugby League be taking this season one game at a time?
Regards
Tony Podpera
WODEN ACT 2606

Wildcat strike

Well I never. Two things seemed obvious to me regarding the cancelling of the NBL grand final series between the Kings and the Wildcats. First, that it was the right thing to stop the series dead. And second, that as the Wildcats were ahead 2-1 when the series was called off, it was right to call them the winners, no questions asked, and congrats to them.

Not everyone, however, saw it like that, least of all theowner of the Kings, Paul Smith, who told Andrew Webster of his dealings with NBL owner Larry Kesselman: “We had an explicit three-way conversation last Friday . . . It was explicitly stated by the Wildcats and the Kings that neither was to have the championship without completing the five-game series. Explicit.”

This is a very strong charge. I approached Kesselman. He is the bloke who put a good chunk of his fortune behind resuscitating the NBL when it was about to collapse five years ago and is a fellow I know personally to be a very quietly spoken, understated businessman.

His answer was without rancour but immediate and firm.

“My word is my bond and there was categorically no such agreement reached between us and the teams. I am proud of our sport and my team, how we have conducted ourselves and the process we ran to achieve what we feel was the right outcome in an unprecedented environment for all involved. We feel blessed on the timing of our season and feel for other sports and the greater community. Thank you.”

Done. Game over. Broadly, basketball’s timing could have been better, but only by a few days. In the post-coronavirus world, the NBL is one comp I would name now as the most likely to quickly get back on its feet.

Listen to Cam

In the meantime?
In the meantime perhaps the denizens of rugby league could give their most iconic figure, Cameron Smith, a break. After the game last week, Smith idly opined that there might be more important things than rugby league, and now might not be the time to be playing it, which saw him bitterly criticised publicly and privately.

Friends? Smith saying this was no more than of Nero’s generals saying: “You know what? Given that Rome is burning and all, now might not be the right time to have our annual fiddling competition, seeing as, you know, fiddling throws sparks and there are more important things to be doing right now!”
Smith is right. His critics are wrong. Deal with it.

Under-arm hero

TFF is doing a book on the Boer War and Breaker Morant at the moment and came across the story of an Englishman, Captain Arthur Turner, who covered himself in glory in the battle of Nitral’s Nek by continuing to load and fire a gun himself alone despite the fact that all his men were wounded or killed, and despite being wounded three times himself. When I asked one of my researchers to find out more about him – so the reader could give a stuff about his heroics – he came back with the answer that not only was he a “well-known Essex batsman” but, and here’s the killer, he was “one of England’s last remaining underarm bowlers”.

WHAT?

Yes’m, though you and I didn’t know, right up until the late 1800s there were still bowlers doing it under-arm until the new-fangled over-arm bowling took over because it was demonstrably faster and more accurate.

Just who Australia’s last under-arm bowler was – yes, yes, yes but please avoid the bleeding obvious and that is not fair to him in any case – I don’t know, but I’ll ask my favourite Oz sports historian Geoff Armstrong to get on to us and report back before next week. Stand by sports fans, I think we can expect a LOT of sports nostalgia, sports history etc, in weeks to come.

What They Said

Dave Hughes on the AFL comp being launched regardless: “Shelve it please AFL. It’s OK to admit you were wrong. It’s a really bad idea on so many levels. All organised sport, at all levels, all around the world, has been cancelled because of health advice but somehow AFL, NRL and A-League are different. Why?”

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys in a press conference on Sunday morning as the full import of the coronavirus really started to hit home. “An Australia without rugby league is not Australia! The government has to assist us in this crisis because it is not of our own doing. Rugby League . . . is people’s escape, it is people’s relaxation. And we have to do everything we can to continue the tradition of rugby league.”

V’landys again: “The last resort for us is to go to the players and ask them for a pay cut because, like the rest of us, they’ve got mortgages and made commitments on the money they believe they’re going to get.”

V’landys again: “We are doing everything we can to minimise risk.” No you are not, Peter. Not playing is minimising risk. Playing is maximising risk.

Cameron Smith: “This thing is bigger than rugby league. I know there are a lot of decisions to be made around our sport from the administration but this affects more than just rugby league and rugby league players.”

GWS Giant Toby Greene on his experiences during the grand final parade after being called a “dog” and “c–t” for several kilometres: “I would have been happier for them to drive the car a bit quicker, there were people three metres away just abusing me. After two kilometres, I thought ‘this is quite shit’. But it’s all part of football, it’s tribalism, I knew it was coming.”

Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool, urges football fans to follow expert advice: “If it’s a choice between football & the good of the wider society, it’s no contest.”

Andrew Bogut after the Wildcats were declared NBL champions: “A quick note to say I could not be any PROUDER of the Sydney Kings and our playing group. After almost 3 hours of back and forth (and plenty of tears) we came to what ultimately was the hardest decision any Athlete or Team could make.” It was, nevertheless, the right decision. Call off the jam. More important things.

Wildcats captain Damian Martin on his team being awarded the title: “At the end of the day Sydney made their decision, and they’re the ones that decided they’re not going to play. So I think that’s enough to say, ‘OK, the other team wins’.” So long as there was no actual agreement to hold on declaring a winner, I agree with that, too.

AOC vice-president Ian Chesterman on the Tokyo Olympics: “For many this will be their only opportunity to be at an Olympic Games. If everybody is planning for the Games, we must plan for the Games as well, because that’s our obligation to the athletes. We know the athletes also want to be there. We need to be able to deliver them safely and get them home safe safely.”

Nick Green, former Australian Olympic chef de mission and Oarsome Foursome member: “A couple of weeks ago, I was as confident as everyone else, saying the Olympics would go ahead, no problem. I’m pretty robust about it but I don’t have the same robustness in my thinking now. I actually can’t see how the Games can go ahead, to be frank.”

Hayley Wickenheiser, Canadian four-time Olympic hockey gold medallist and IOC member: “I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.”

Deputy PM of Japan Taro Aso: “It’s a problem that’s happened every 40 years — it’s the cursed Olympics – and that’s a fact.” He was referring to the 1940 Summer and Winter Games – both scheduled for Japan, before WWII cancelled them, and the heavily boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics. But, amazing, yes, that the IOC had scheduled two successive Games to such heavyweight militaristic regimes as Nazi Germany in 1936, and the Japanese in 1940.

Dale Steyn: “In South Africa we kind of like looking for things that unite people in big, big groups. When you don’t have sport, it’s like, oh, what do we fall back onto? And I think Nelson Mandela was the first person to really say that: sport unites people in a way that nothing else does. And if you take sport away, then I don’t know really what we have. We’re gonna have to work it all out.”

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Tom Brady The most famous quarterback in the world, now in his early 40s, is leaving the New England Patriots and moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The obvious question being will this all be over by the beginning of the next NFL season?

Perth Wildcats Won another NBL title, although this one will be remembered for different reasons.

NSW Crowned Sheffield Shield champions after leading with one round to play when stumps were called on the comp due to the coronavirus.

RIP Dr John Solomon The long-time Sydney University rugby icon and former Wallaby captain passed away this week. He was, most famously, one of the 1949 Wallabies who beat the All Blacks on New Zealand soil in successive Tests. Dem was da daze!

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