By Annie Kinny and Matt Burgess, Director.
The role of sportsmen and women has extended beyond ‘the game’ and into their personal lives and it has become more common for such persons to make the headlines, not only in relation to their sporting achievements but also in relation to what happens off the field. On one hand, the personal life of a professional sportsman or woman should be separate from their professional career [as with lawyers or policemen/women]. However, because sporting personalities often make the headlines for reasons other than their sporting prowess and in many cases their sporting profile is shadowed by their celebrity profile in the media, sport’s governing bodies now require that a ‘disrepute clause’ be contained within the athlete’s contract. The validity of these clauses are evidenced by the cases of Joel Monaghan and Brendan Fevola from NRL and AFL respectively who had their contracts terminated for ‘off field’ discretions and Nick Darcy’s in behaviour in recent years has indicated that in cases where a criminal charge is laid (regardless of an innocent or guilty verdict) such behaviour is sufficient to bring the sport into disrepute and the remedies drafted into such clauses are triggered at the discretion of the governing body.
There is a distinction between a ‘whistle blower’ and a ‘whinger’ for example the recent allegations made against Lance Armstrong can be viewed as unearthing the illegal conduct of sporting professionals within sport. Additionally, the allegations of sexual assault of the Green Bay Packers player can also be viewed as behaviour outside the game that is not congruent with the image of the sport. So, the sport must react to protect its commercial and corporate stakeholders. The integrity of the sport as a product and career pathway is the asset protected by these clauses.
So where does this leave Quade Cooper and his recent criticisms of national ARU team environment and lack of quality facilities? Last week, through his Twitter account, Cooper criticised the state of the game and the strategy of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. He also stood by his comments on Fox Sport’s “The Rugby Club”. So… Is the state of the game as grim as Cooper has made out or is his simply venting frustrating at the expense of the sport and if so, can he be dealt with under the disrepute clause of his ARU contract? Contractually, it seems he is renegotiating his ARU contract so the application of the “disrepute clause” is speculative.
More practically, is he a whistle-blower or whinger? A few senior players have responded to Coopers comments and have stated that “The state of Australian rugby and the Wallabies is not as grim as is being made out” and although Cooper is entitled to his views, “the way Cooper went about it, is the “disappointing thing,” “It’s just not a good look for the game in general.”
Cooper maintains that he has supporters but the senior players said a vast majority of Wallabies did not back the “toxic environment” assertions. One player has expressed dismay over Coopers comments and believes that had he made such comments his contract would have been torn up.
ARU boss John O’Neill, who only today resigned “unrelated” reasons, broke a week of silence on Cooper, saying he was “utterly confused” by many of the grievances outlined on Fox Sport’s the Rugby Club and “Most disturbingly, he was firm about not playing for the Wallabies unless things change,” O’Neill said. “If that is how he feels, then that is his choice. The point behind all the fuss is that players must maintain a level of respect for their profession and tweeting frustrations are perhaps not the best avenue to make any issues known. There is a fine line between being a whinger and wanting to improve the sport and tweeting any frustrations may result in loss of contract. The main point to take from the ‘Cooper Case’ is perhaps most suitably put by one senior team member “It is a privilege to be able to play for the Wallabies. If you feel like you are better than that, it is time to move on.”
With John O’Neill resigning today, the next question will be whether Quade Cooper re-stokes the fire and claims the resignation is acknowledgement and acceptance of his public claims… we hope Mr O’Neill’s reign is not utilised in such a guideless swipe for attention and hence tainted.
This blog is for discussion purposes only. This must not be considered legal advice.
For legal advice on this topic and references to any information in this article, please contact
Matt Burgess, Director:
Phone: +61 405 722 739
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Image Credit: akeeris
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