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Should De Goey play? Pies face questions amid calamity

On Saturday, it emerges first that Travis Varcoe has been racially vilified, and then what may well prove the most calamitous event of Collingwood’s plummeting 2020 campaign: the charging of Jordan De Goey with indecent assault from an incident in 2015.

On Saturday, the Magpies had decided that De Goey would remain in the football program. Their intention was that he continue to play, joining the team in Perth after missing the Round 6 game against Hawthorn because of COVID-19 rules.

Doubtless, this decision will be the subject of discussion, within football, the media and the community. For while De Goey is entitled to a presumption of innocence, there will be many who will think he should not play.

Collingwood defended Travis Varcoe after he was abused on social media.

Collingwood defended Travis Varcoe after he was abused on social media. Credit:Getty Images

Football did not have a great record when it came to incidents of assault against women in yesteryear, and the AFL and clubs are highly conscious that community standards have – rightly – shifted towards a greater appreciation of the victim.

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So, much as Collingwood respects De Goey’s right to legal process and have chosen – at this stage – to let him play, they will do so carefully, in the knowledge that they must respect the alleged victim.

They will be mindful, too, of the considerable damage inflicted on the club’s image and the potential fall-out with sponsors, who have never been more important to the bottom line than this season.

What would happen if a major sponsor suggested that it would walk, should De Goey play – irrespective of his legal rights? There would be interesting conversations, and a difficult choice.

It is also possible that De Goey, whom we’re told wants to keep playing, will reconsider that decision. Or that the Pies will decide it is not worth the distraction.

Collingwood, as mentioned, has a gift for locating novel scandals, but a De Goey-like scenario has visited an AFL club in recent times. In 2013, St Kilda forward Steven Milne was charged with rape and the club and AFL endured vexed internal debates about whether he should be allowed to play.

Initially, the AFL wanted Milne stood down. But St Kilda’s senior players, who were close to Milne, pushed back and lobbied for him to play. The AFL prevailed but only for a couple of weeks as Milne was reinstated – and then booed by opposition fans when he took the field.

Football did not have a great record when it came to incidents of assault against women in yesteryear, and the AFL and clubs are highly conscious that community standards have – rightly – shifted towards a greater appreciation of the victim.

A sexual assault expert, Carolyn Worth, who had consulted with the AFL on its respect and responsibility policy, was among the voices who lambasted the league for allowing Milne to play. Eventually, Milne pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of indecent assault, a conviction was recorded and the rape charges were dropped.

As with Milne, the De Goey charge is from an alleged incident several years before the official charge, in this case 2015, his first season at Collingwood.

De Goey will not face court for this charge of indecent assault until October 30, what would be the day before the AFL grand final if all went well for the competition (no guarantee obviously) and if the season isn’t shut down.

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Who knows what impact this situation will have on De Goey if and when he plays, when the TV crews surround him at training, when he turns up at the airport en route to the Perth hub, where there will be crowds and he might well be hooted. It is a major unknown. I have never conversed with De Goey, beyond a sentence, even though my brother managed him for a period from 2017 until late 2019.

The AFL and Collingwood have already cooperated over an investigation by the integrity unit two years ago, when – as per normal process – the police must be notified of the matter. Today, it is out of the AFL and Collingwood’s hands.

Lest we forget – much as Nathan Buckley and the hierarchy would probably like to – that Heritier Lumumba’s complaint of racial abuse within the walls of the the club is subject to an intra-club investigation, in another past incident that has resurfaced at an inopportune moment.

But, as their season turns uglier than the Melbourne v Geelong game, the Pies have taken the heaviest dent yet to an already banged-up brand. As with football generally, they will need to be nimble and ready to change tack on De Goey.

In a season of unprecedented, unthinkable obstacles for the AFL, its most storied and talked-about club is facing a test of its mettle, composure, resilience and integrity.

Results on the field matter far less, though, than how the Pies navigate the crises that plague the club in a time of plague.

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