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NRL’s political posturing must stop with anthem disgrace

As far as politically correct stinkers go, banning the national anthem was not the worst decision the NRL almost made this year.

The country was in flames over the summer with bushfires big enough to create headlines around the world and the NRL, whose creed was always "Be Popular", was set to publicly announce its support for action on global warming.

If they had, it might have been a safe bet the next destination for the fire engines would be League Central. Somebody would have wanted to run the place down, and rightfully so.

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Luckily ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys banned then NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg from making the statement, although some hours later Greenberg still tried to push it through the Commission, and V'landys was forced to step in again.

For reasons nobody would explain the NRL believed it needed to continue to provide a political position even as it struggled to make its core business, the playing of rugby league, a success.

The NRL, remember, had already come out some years back to publicly support same sex marriage, which drew heated debate and split the code.

The NRL backflipped on its anthem ban. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty
The NRL backflipped on its anthem ban. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty

It was a gesture of inclusivity, the NRL said, even though its only effect was the opposite. Many NRL fans immediately picked a side, sometimes gently, but quickly dug in when forced to defend their position.

Why the NRL continues to try to position itself in political matters is something the game has not explained.

Just a casual understanding of the Commission and those involved is needed to see how the Commission thought Thursday's original decision to ban the Australian national anthem before State of Origin games was a good one.

INSIDE STORY: How year-long anthem debacle blew up in NRL's face

They love a cause. In the absence of a genuine understanding of what the average rugby league fan wants and believes, they took the socially correct position.

Before V'landys' appointment as chairman the Commission was always quick to gravitate to social politics, perhaps seeking the approval there they failed to find as administrators of the game.

But V'landys, right up until Thursday, was above that. He knew boardrooms were not a place to practice activism.


Former NRL CEO Todd Greenberg (right) and ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Former NRL CEO Todd Greenberg (right) and ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett


Briefly, on Thursday, V'Landys forgot the game needs to be a reflection of society, not a battering ram for certain political beliefs.

It came after the insult reached the highest level, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling V'landys to protest the decision.

By then, the rugby league nation was in uproar.

It was a tough lesson learned.

"It was never meant to be a political statement," V'Landys said after reversing the decision.

Perhaps, but it is impossible to see it that way after last year's controversy when Indigenous players Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr declared before Origin I they would refuse to sing the national anthem, then stood silently through Advance Australia Fair.

The anthem was then removed from the All-Star game in February after protests from the Indigenous team.

Since then the Black Lives Matter protest has spread across the world, with many sporting teams around the world taking a knee during anthems to support the cause for equality.

The Australian cricket team was later slammed for not taking a knee when skipper Aaron Finch declared the Australians would not take a knee before a T20 game in England, because, "The education around it is more important than the protest."

Former West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding rode the emotional narrative and called Finch's explanation "lame".

Only a cool head was needed to understand Finch's stance was correct but that, also, reason gets lost in the noise of today, when emotion replaces logic.

In each case, just like Walker, Mitchell and Addo-Carr last year, teams or athletes made their choice according to their belief.

They have been doing it since Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and refused to fight in Vietnam to protest America's civil rights.

That is the individual's right, and as Ali showed it sometimes comes at a cost.

Around them teams, consisting of those individuals, have a right to choose together.

Sporting codes, though, should represent everybody and not decide who is wrong or right, or force those who love their game to have to get behind a political position they don't support.

Nobody tells NRL fans whether they should vote Liberal or Labor, and the rest of politics should be the same.

Hopefully, Thursday's decision ends the need for the NRL's political positioning once and for all.

Originally published as NRL's political posturing must stop with anthem disgrace