And so Beattie and his fellow members of the Australian Rugby League Commission will sit around a table on Thursday to discuss Napa and Jack de Belin and Dylan Walker and maybe Jarryd Hayne and how the hell they stop a behavioural rot which has left the code at the «crossroads».
ere is also the small issue of salary cap investigations dogging Cronulla and Wests Tigers, too.
Only last year Beattie and NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg sat at the head of another table inside League Central, forecasting the governing body would smash revenue and profit estimates with a projected surplus nudging $50 million, albeit inflated given it was the first year of a record television deal.
In the same meeting, attended by a group of journalists, the NRL was specific about one thing: it had a vehicle which should be attractive to top-40 companies as rugby league morphed into the professionally-run, clean-cut game it always thought it could be.
Fast forward a few months and the NRL is watching the dollars walk out the door, Beattie himself conceding the string of police charges against players — including for alleged offences against women — in recent months had cost the code «millions». One of the game’s high-ranking officials was asked about the corporate reaction in recent weeks. «S—house,» they said.
I seriously believe we are at the crossroads as a game unless we stand up on this issue
Which is why you can almost guarantee the ARLC will next week make significant changes to its behavioural policy, the crux of which will be whether players who face serious criminal charges should be stood down until the legal process is complete.
«The current policy has to be changed,» Beattie says. «We have to be a game that is supportive of the whole community.
«Any game that doesn’t have a strong support from and respect women doesn’t have a future. Everyone in the game has to understand that. It’s not rocket science. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also commercially sound. We’re going to make the right decision for the game.
«We know this will be unpopular in certain circles, but doing the right thing is not meant to be popular. I seriously believe we are at the crossroads as a game unless we stand up on this issue.»
Undoubtedly, the charge of aggravated sexual assault in company levelled against Dragons forward de Belin has been the most jarring and polarising for the NRL. De Belin has pleaded not guilty and his club have resisted pressure for him to be stood down despite the police allegations. The 27-year-old has pleaded his innocence without being able to tell his side of the story yet.
On Tuesday, Beattie and Greenberg will meet with Dragons bosses including chief executive Brian Johnston and chairman Andrew Gordon. The club will be allowed to make a formal submission to be taken into consideration by the ARLC, which has already been grappling with the legal complexities of the stand-down issue.
Beattie as well as fellow commissioners Megan Davis, a human rights lawyer, and Amanda Laing has a legal background. The commission has already leant on the expertise of Davis, who is preparing an extensive review of how the game treats women that will be tabled later this year, in preparation for traipsing the legal minefield which will arise in Thursday’s meeting.
The ARLC has also sought advice from a highly respected QC, who will prepare a submission for members to digest. They will also be presented with a policy framework for consideration. Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has handed over a dossier of information to the ARLC relating to swimmer Nick D’Arcy’s ban from the Beijing Games in 2008 after he was charged with assault occasioning grievous bodily harm.
While there is a clear agitation for change and immediate action, there is a sense all commissioners are keeping an open mind and are wary of acting in advance of the courts. Each will be invited to have their say, with any change only reached by consensus rather than a straw poll.
They will have a precedent to be guided by. The NFL has a policy of standing down players who fall foul of the law until their cases are wrapped up by the legal system. Many miss significant parts of their careers before being acquitted, an argument used by supporters of de Belin, who insist his case could take well over a year to reach a verdict and could be thrown out.
Quietly in the background, the NRL has tentatively looked at how it will grant salary cap relief to clubs which are forced to go without players stood down if that is the road the ARLC pursues. Where does the extra money come from? How much will clubs be allowed to spend on a replacement? What happens to the replacement if the stood-down player is acquitted and returns? It’s a murky option, but one some think they have no choice but to take.
In the space of a week the sands have significantly shifted. Club chief executives were said to be split almost down the middle when asked at a conference in Melbourne last week about the merits of standing down de Belin and other players facing criminal charges.
In the days since, some of the code’s heaviest hitters — headed by headed by Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga as well as influential Roosters chairman Nick Politis and Storm supremo Bart Campbell — have argued the ARLC has no choice but to stand down players charged with serious criminal offences.
Beattie and his commissioners have been working the phones with club bosses in the lead-up to Thursday’s meeting, aware whatever stance they take will need to have the support of the majority of the game’s stakeholders.
Beattie has been putting an argument to all for discussion: that the stand-down edict should be introduced before the legal system has run its course. The hypothetical has won strong support from nearly all. It’s understood at least one club boss was wavering on the idea and one was vehemently against it.
That one boss had an ally in the form of the Rugby League Players’ Association, which strongly opposes a stand-down order.
«A professional rugby league career is short, and a player will suffer irreparable damage to his career as a direct result of being suspended while the criminal process runs its course,» players’ union chief executive Ian Prendergast said this week. «This would have an immense impact on the player and the lost opportunities could not be remedied. It is also likely to be considered an unreasonable restraint of trade.»
A player will suffer irreparable damage to his career as a direct result of being suspended while the criminal process runs its course
The position of the players, however, is increasingly being viewed as a stance which is swimming against the tide.
In recent weeks, Beattie and Greenberg have consulted Nine chief executive officer Hugh Marks and News Corp Australasia’s executive chairman Michael Miller as the game’s official broadcast partners become increasingly edgy. Nine, in particular, is believed to have shown particular frustration over the summer scandals.
Sources say a range of new advertising campaigns for the game were going to be heavily skewed towards women this year, a plan hatched even before the wretched run of headlines. What chance of those being taken in good faith now?
The NRL is only into its second year of a record $1.8 billion five-year TV deal. Television executives and marketing analysts have already warned sports broadcast deals might have reached a ceiling, potentially compromising the NRL’s earning capacity from 2023 onwards. In other words, don’t expect the money you got last time.
It’s why those at the game’s top table have taken it upon themselves to personally contact club chiefs with a stern message: tell your players every time they watch one of their mates have another drink which risks putting himself in trouble, they are risking their own income too.
Quite rightly, the ARLC thought they had built some strong momentum among the female demographic after establishing the inaugural NRLW competition and a State of Origin fixture in 2018. A woman could referee an NRL game for the first time this year. The narrative has been hijacked by the alleged actions of a select few.
Yet the code still has supporters. Harvey Norman was emblazoned across the jerseys of both the NSW and Queensland sides in the momentous women’s Origin clash, and the company has sponsored the Jillaroos as well as the Women In League round. It doesn’t want to go anywhere.
«Some sports have issues from time to time, but we’ll be supporting it going forward,» retailer Gerry Harvey said.
If there is a not a change to the code’s disciplinary policy on Thursday, however, how many women will feel the same way?
It’s a question Beattie might have asked himself in the Andes. He’s only got a few days left to figure out the answer.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.