The Australian Football League "divided its fans, clubs and some of its biggest names by publicly endorsing a yes vote in the national same-sex marriage survey," according to Rob Harris of the HERALD SUN. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan defended the position -- which included replacing the AFL logo at its Docklands HQ with the word “YES” -- as being part of the league's "anti-discrimination stance." A number of past players and coaches on Wednesday "questioned the league’s role in the debate and its decision to back one side." Former AFL coach Mick Malthouse said, "The AFL will only polarize people and really has no right to be involved in the political world of marriage equality." Carlton on Wednesday became the first club to publicly move against backing the AFL's stance, saying that the debate was "about personal choice." Former Collingwood player Tony Shaw said that the "level of vilification in the debate meant the league and individual clubs should not publicly back one side or the other." Shaw: "There's a lot of vilification going around for people who are voting no." Former Victorian Premier and ex-Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett, a supporter of same-sex marriage, said, "I am perplexed about the decision. I'm quite in favor of the AFL and its individual leaders having a view -- as I have -- but I am less comfortable with them imposing their view on the football-loving public" (HERALD SUN, 9/20).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver faced "hostile questioning" at a Senate hearing where it was suggested the Melbourne Rebels "received more than double the funding of the Western Force before the latter's axing from the Super Rugby competition," according to the AAP. The title of the hearing was the "Future of rugby union in Australia," but it was "dominated by the issues surrounding the recent decision to dump the Force." In the past three years, "the Force received the least amount of funding of Australia's five teams and the Rebels the most," Western Australia Senator Linda Reynolds told the hearing, citing ARU statements. Reynolds added, "Any way you look at this, the Force got the least amount of these Super Rugby grants than any other team -- in some cases they get almost half of what the Rebels got." Pulver said that he "could not say whether Senator Reynolds' figures were correct or not," which she said was "surprising" as he was the governing body's CEO. The questioning "became heated when Pulver refused to reveal what support or deals were done with the Rebels and Cox," citing confidentiality agreements (AAP, 9/20). In Canberra, Chris Dutton reported Pulver "leapt to the defence of the ACT Brumbies," describing the club as an "iconic rugby brand." Pulver said that the Brumbies "face significant challenges because they are based in a politically dominated market" as questions were raised about why the Canberra club "survived the Super Rugby axe." The Brumbies were "drawn back into the debate" as senators examined why the Force was exiled instead of the Brumbies and the Melbourne Rebels. But Pulver was "quick to back the ARU's decision to quarantine the Brumbies," saying that "they were the only Australian franchise to never ask for financial assistance" (CANBERRA TIMES, 9/20).
'TOTALLY BASELESS': In Sydney, Iain Payten reported former ARU COO Rob Clarke "rejected accusations" from former Force CEO Mark Sinderberry that he "undermined the WA club as a secret Melbourne Rebels supporter during the Super Rugby downsizing process." Clarke's involvement as a leading ARU figure in the decision to shut down the Force "came under attack," with Sinderberry claiming the former Rebels CEO was "supporting" the Melbourne club during the deliberations. He alleged Clarke gave a confidential alliance agreement document to Victorian Rugby Union President Tim North "in the middle of the saga." Clarke said, "I absolutely empathize with the emotion of the Western Force and their supporters, but any allegations that have been made are totally baseless and I have nothing more to say on the matter" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 9/21).
Durham County Cricket Club Chair Ian Botham criticized cricket's transfer system and the "potential conflict of interest when county coaches act as England selectors" after a "promising young all-rounder" left Durham to join Nottinghamshire, according to Elizabeth Ammon of the LONDON TIMES. Paul Coughlin's move on Monday "provoked a hard-hitting statement from Botham," who called for counties to be rewarded for producing players through their academies. He also "hit out at county directors of cricket who are England selectors," as is the case with Mick Newell at Nottinghamshire and Angus Fraser at Middlesex. Botham said, "It concerns me that the current arrangements within cricket do not reward counties that invest in academies and produce exciting young English players. The ECB [England & Wales Cricket Board] is currently reviewing its partnership agreement with the counties and Durham will be making strong representations to properly reward those that invest in the development of local talent" (LONDON TIMES, 9/19). The BBC reported Durham head coach Jon Lewis said that compensation would "soften the blow" of players leaving a county but warns a transfer system could "bring problems." Coughlin's move to Nottinghamshire for '18 without recompense caused Botham to call for fees to be paid to sign players. About the exit of Coughlin, Lewis said, "It does feel pretty harsh. However a transfer system could bring its own problems, perhaps it's something of a double-edged sword." He added, "It won't (a change to the system) make everything great because we want top players to play for Durham but, if they are going to go, some money might help" (BBC, 9/20).
England has been defeated in its "bid to reduce the Six Nations Championship from a seven-week tournament to six after France joined the other nations in voting against the proposal" at a Six Nations board meeting, according to Owen Slot of the LONDON TIMES. The Rugby Football Union "had been coupled with France in a desire to squeeze the tournament by losing one of the rest weekends" while the other four nations were all opposed to the plan. However, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) "performed an about-turn and left England isolated" as it lost the vote 5-1. The RFU has "long been lobbying for a move to six weeks," even though its players have been "vocally opposed to the change." The RFU's position for the move to six weeks is "largely due to pressure" from Premiership Rugby clubs. However, without France supporting its case, "it looks a desperate long shot for the RFU to deliver for the clubs the shorter tournament that they want." The RFU "must regain the support of France if it is to satisfy the demands" of the clubs. The plan, which has been discussed by the RFU's Professional Game Board committee, would mean England and France missing the opening weekend of the Six Nations Championship and playing each other instead in week three, which is normally a rest week (LONDON TIMES, 9/20). In London, Chris Jones reported RFU insiders insisted "there is not support for the move" from the Rugby Players' Association and "no talks have been held" with its French counterpart over the issue. RPA CEO Damian Hopley believes a move to a shorter Six Nations would put an "unacceptable workload" on int'l players and is "adamant his members have not been consulted over the plan." The next RFU PGB meeting is in November. Hopley said, "The players do not support shortening the Six Nations. Not one England player I have spoken to believes this is a good idea" (EVENING STANDARD, 9/20).