Saturday, June 7, 2008

Stuart Needs To Get With The Times

Sorry Ricky, but all players should be able to wear the green and gold!

Last week Australian Rugby League coach Ricky Stuart made some big calls by declaring that he would not pick players to represent Australia if they had chosen to chase the big dollars offered by clubs overseas.

Initially, I thought “Yep, I see his point” and to a certain extent I actually agreed with the stand he was taking.

I have had some time to reflect on the decision now and have changed my mind. Here’s why.

As I have mentioned several times in my columns, there are very few things that have made me more proud than pulling on the green and gold to represent my country.

I cannot think of one good reason why any athlete should be robbed of such a tremendous honour simply because they play in a competition other than the one available to them in Australia.

Not only can I not think of a good reason. I cannot name another sport that puts such a restriction on potential Australian representatives.

In fact, some athletes move away from their country of origin because the competition is better. Basketball and soccer immediately spring to mind. Athletes who excel in these sports strive for the opportunity to go overseas to chase better competition and more money. They want to perform at the highest level possible. The fact is that they have to go elsewhere to do it.

As an athlete, the other factor you have to consider is the duration of your earning capacity. While some people are fortunate enough to make an entire life’s work out of their passion, any athlete has a used by date that is much shorter than your average professional in another job. If you don’t go for the best financial deal you can get your hands on, within reason of course, you are just plain silly.

Let’s be honest. There is no way an A-League side could ever come up with the salary Harry Kewl has been rewarded with overseas. And Andrew Bogut is about to sign an NBA contract rumoured to be worth around $80 million. There are very few sports in the world that could lay out money like that for one player. The finances of the NBL have been exposed over the past few weeks and we all know it is not going to compete with that type of money.

If either soccer or basketball tried to implement a policy like Stuart’s, the national representative teams would be left for dead. It would be a no brainer - players would have to forgo the honour of playing for their country in favour of being able to ensure their financial security, and that of their families, for the future.

Stuart eluded to the fact that a move like this would mean he was assured of picking players who were passionate about playing for their country.

This reasoning leaves me more than a little perplexed. I don’t think I would be the only one to say that it did not matter where in the world I earned my living playing basketball, the level of passion I would have about when playing for my country would never waiver.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Stuart was asked to coach outside of Australia for a couple of years, but remained the National Team coach. Would
that mean he would lose the zest to do his best for his country as their coach? You would have a tough time convincing me of it.

Now, thankfully Stuart does not have the only voice in determining the final Australian team. He is only giving his opinion on how he would like to see players selected. There is probably a attempt of his own at keeping our best player on Australian soil.

I think it could be detrimental to the game of rugby league if the most talented country in the rugby league world lost the World Cup simply because we did not select our best players. There would be no winner in that type of situation and Australian Rugby League would pay the biggest price at the end of the day. It would lose fans, players, and dollars and would, in my opinion, find it difficult to recover.

You can find my column in the Townsville Bulletin every Saturday.

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