It was legendary Liverpool soccer coach Bill Shankly who said he didn’t like it when people said football was a matter of life and death because he felt it was much more important than that.
To Victorians and particularly to us here in the south-west, Aussie Rules is a way of life, a passage, an obsession. We love the game and our clubs are at the very bedrock of life.
So that’s why the vicious off-the-ball attack on a teenager last week by a criminal on parole for violent assaults and armed robberies that left the teenager with a jaw broken in two places is so unsettling and plain wrong.
The Standard and other media outlets including The Age, 3AW and others have reported this incident and the manifestly inadequate penalty of three weeks subsequently handed out by the South West District Football League independent tribunal. Predictably it has attracted a welter of comment, both informed and otherwise.
Let’s be clear about the issues here.
No-one is saying criminals do not deserve a second chance. It is clear that rehabilitation and reintegration to society after jail time is important, but is contact sport – and particularly the game we love where underage players can test their mettle in ways that are hard and fair – the place for this?
Do the needs of the few outweigh the many? Should parents and other players be told of the presence of players with a history of violence? Where is the duty of care and who owns it?
When approached by The Standard and other media, AFL Victoria and AFL Western District either declined to comment or outrageously said it was up to clubs to judge whether their registered players were of “good character”.
What then is the role of the game’s administrators? Why would they devolve such a crucial duty to volunteers running clubs who are hard-pressed to muster a team, guernseys, oranges, the canteen and a welter of other minutiae just to stay alive?
Footy is not and should not actually be about life or death and it is up to its administrators to ensure that is so for our kids, our brothers, sisters, wives and husbands.