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Australia can stand tall as AFL takes the knee

Most movingly, just as it started, the star of the Richmond side, Jack Riewoldt reached out and placed his left hand on the shoulder of his young Indigenous teammate Sydney Stack – a fraternal embrace that seemed to say: We are with you, we get it.

By John Shakespeare.

By John Shakespeare.Credit:Sydney Morning Herald

I am not sure who was the driving force but I hope it was the players. If you compare the beauty of that to the sheer ugliness that attended the first display of “taking a knee” in America, Australia can be proud that we are making progress.

Fox and friends

In a phrase I have had little cause to use in recent years, there was great news for rugby this week … with the announcement that Fox Sports had turned the financial taps back on. There might still be life in what appeared to be an entirely ruptured relationship with an entity that has poured more than a billion dollars into the sport over the past 25 years.

Fox Sports has given Australian rugby a spark of optimism.

Fox Sports has given Australian rugby a spark of optimism.Credit:Getty

It does not mean there is a contract for next year – far from it – just that, despite its many woes, the game still has a pulse. What will happen from here as the game rebuilds is not clear but, after a couple of chats with the powerbrokers, I’ll bet this. Next year, one way or another, you will see fewer Wallabies Tests, a greater commitment from Rugby Australia to put more of the resources it has to the grassroots game, and a long-overdue total revamping of the Super competition. Watch this space.

Trials by media


Meantime, my mate Mick Colliss, the rugby poet and brilliant after-dinner speaker, does a weekly podcast with Mitch Hardy and Force hooker Heath Tessmann called The Rugby Wrap. This week, on the back of the stunning success of the sports fly-on-the-wall documentaries The Test and The Last Dance, one of their listeners had an idea that needs wider airing. Run a genuine Wallabies trial, with two teams, headed by two rising-star coaches under the guidance of incoming Australia coach Dave Rennie and high-performance manager Scott Johnson.


Rennie names 50 players in his ‘players of interest’ squad. They go into camp and, after a few days, they all gather in a room. A TV series camera crew captures everything. The two coaches then go pick for pick, choosing players for their team, one at a time, like an NFL draft. They can pick in any order. One might choose a prop first. The other might choose a No.10. When a coach nominates the position he is about to choose, ex-players on the televised panel discuss the merits of each player available for selection. And so forth. The cameras follow them from there, as they go into camp for a week, and in the fourth episode we see the game itself, before the climax – the naming of the Wallabies side to take on the All Blacks!

Beyond everything else, such a show would help connect rugby followers with the players – a link that has been lost in recent years. Your thoughts?

Deaths on the track

Dear TFF,

While risk reduction is top priority for Peter V’landys as chairman of rugby league, carnage and cruelty on NSW racetracks is being ignored. Risk reduction does not appear to be a concern.

Prevailing preventative strategies are clearly a failure. Six horses died on race day on NSW racetracks in May. Two more in trackwork.

On Sunday at Sapphire Coast, two horses collapsed and died, two more bled from both nostrils, and the racing industry thinks it can still justify whipping horses up to 18 times in a race. [Racing NSW] must be held to account for this carnage.

Best regards,

Sandra Jorgensen, co-author, Sydney University research study into deaths of racehorses, NSW/ACT 2009-2014

Cerutty’s political link

Sports historians will know of Percy Cerutty as the wildly eccentric and celebrated athletics coach of many stars, including the great Herb Elliott. His methods centred on first building a strong mind, through an understanding of such things as philosophy, before coaching the body. And most older Australians will know of Dr Jim Cairns, the deputy prime minister under Gough Whitlam, also a man who marched to the beat of a different drum. Until now, I never knew the connection!

In Graem Sims just re-released biography of Cerutty, he notes: “Cairns had been Victorian hurdling and decathlon champion in the late 1930s before World War II interrupted his athletics pursuits. In the late 1940s he’d entered politics, joining the Australian Labor Party and proposing the promotion of a progressive, tolerant, environmentally sensitive brand of socialism. It was his vision for rescuing Australia from its staid, repressed, destructive, capitalist obsessions.

His friendship with Percy flourished in the second half of the 1950s, and Cairns would claim that Percy was one of the greatest spurs and influences on the development of his social theory and personal philosophy of life. He even went so far as to rank Cerutty’s influence above such Australian socialist heavyweights as Arthur Calwell, Doc Evatt and Gough Whitlam.”

Percy Cerutty in 1954.

Percy Cerutty in 1954.Credit:Staff

Interesting, yes? If things had been reversed, and Cairns had stayed with athletics while Elliott was inspired by Cerutty to enter politics, he would have been a beauty. Elliott, who I am lightly in touch with from time to time, remains one of the best men I know. He is a happy, healthy, 82-year-old, living quietly with his bride, Liz, in Sydney.

What They Said

Carolyn Campbell, CEO – Netball NSW: “With the Premier recently announcing the reallocation of the $800 million ANZ Stadium redevelopment fund to reboot the state’s economy, it is imperative that community sport is made a priority. It is the grassroots, not billion-dollar TV-funded elite codes, which will ensure sport’s survival. They cannot be forgotten.” What she said.

Morris Iemma, off a long run, on his long-time love the St George Dragons: “It’s a club whose only ambition is to just be there. Meanwhile, other clubs are competing for premierships. It’s a simple betrayal of what the Dragons should stand for. We’ve become a symbol of mediocrity.”

Nick Kyrgios.

Nick Kyrgios.Credit:AAP

Nick Kyrgios, tweeting, as the Broncos went from bad to worse to absolute garbage against the Roosters: “You boys train at all during the quarantine or what? 45-0, f..k me dead.” When Nick Kyrgios thinks you have issues with not training hard enough, by gawd you do have issues!

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: “Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.” Goodell went on to say the NFL was wrong to ban players taking a knee during the national anthem, and apologised.

Doping whistle-blower Betsy Andreu, the wife of retired cyclist Frankie Andreu, on what it was like to be persecuted by Lance Armstrong: “It was not feeling safe in your own home. It was having his sycophants just go after us mercilessly … Being afraid, not wanting the kids to go outside because we had received a couple of death threats. And [Armstrong] never denounced any of them. I’m not being glib when I say people would have killed themselves over a smidgen of what he had done to me.”

Sharks coach John Morris on a number of players failing the first temperature test before a game: “They were dropping like flies, it was kind of like trying to get into a nightclub without your ID. They were all getting turned away. I was like ‘what’s going on’, I was going to have to pull the boots on.”

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart after his side’s 20-point flogging by Newcastle: “Probably what we didn’t bring to the game … we’ll take out of it, and make sure we’ve got it going forward.” Got it, coach. I think. But just give it to me one more time?

Nic Naitanui.

Nic Naitanui.Credit:Darren England

AFL Star Nic Naitanui on the perils of social media: You kind of prepare yourself for the backlash or for the negative comments. I always find if I’m going to write something, especially on Twitter or Instagram, make sure you spell it right and you put your commas and full stops in the right spot, and you spell it all right. Otherwise all the people that come at you for not doing it correctly won’t take you as seriously.” I know – the small repetition. But this was something he said, not something he put on social media, with a chance to review before posting.

Manchester City and England striker Raheem Sterling on the BBC: “There’s something like 500 players in the Premier League and a third of them are black and we have no representation of us in the hierarchy, no representation of us in the coaching staffs.”

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, criticising NFL players taking a knee: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”

Malcolm Jenkins, Brees’ teammate: “Drew Brees, you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are. I’m disappointed, I’m hurt, because while the world tells you, ‘You are not worthy’, that your life doesn’t matter, the last place you want to hear it from are the guys you go to war with and that you consider to be your allies and your friends. Even though we are teammates, I can’t let this slide.” Brees apologised, noting his remarks were, “insensitive and completely missed the mark.”


Team of the Week

Benji Marshall. The veteran Wests Tigers playmaker was dropped this week.

Kevin Muscat. New manager of Belgium side Sint-Truiden. That bloke seems to pop up everywhere, yes?

Parramatta Eels. Four wins from four to start the season

Gold Coast Titans. Got their first win in a year.

St George Illawarra Dragons. Remain the only side yet to register a win in the NRL this season. Glory days of 11 straight couldn’t appear further away!

Twitter: Peter_Fitz

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