When You Need a Pig Gutted You Go To a Butcher and When You Need A Statesman You Go To John Howard

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

There are few things as cringeworthy as watching Kevin Rudd in a Brisbane Broncos jersey or Brisbane Lions scarf, jumping up and down from the good seats at the big games with the accountant’s haircut, pretending to comprehend what is playing out before him. Perhaps yet another pathetic skit from those dopey attention molesters at The Chaser. Maybe paying witness to the cheap gold digging whores who marry men three times their age yet still lack the class to find either discretion or a decent dress. Possibly sitting front row as a middle aged stripper with cellulite dangling from her thighs like sausages in a Hungarian deli abuses various forms of fruit, beverage containers and children’s toys in a manner that was never intended by either the producers of said products or God himself. Watching Paul Carige play rugby league goes close.

And that is about it. Rudd raising his geeky arms when watching the Brisbane Lions kick a behind is only matched in awkwardness by his placing the Dally M Medal around the neck of an NRL star he has never heard of. He is no sports fan. He only deigns to faux embrace sport in an attempt to add some testosterone to his overtly feminine image as well as get his name and face mixed in with the most popular pastime in town: football. It is pure political pragmatism. No politician in Australia could survive a single election if he didn’t at least even humour the masses with support for a footy team. No intelligent voter believes K-Rudd genuinely cares about the Broncos or Lions or sports or anything outside his own Sunrise-driven political career. He is, however, required to at least act like he gives a damn about football.

Not all of Australia’s leaders have been so obviously non-sporting types, however. There have been plenty who genuinely followed the sporting adventures of this country, be it rugby league or Australian rules, cricket or racing. We haven’t always had some dainty pseudo intellectual snob in The Lodge though it is doubtful that there was even one sporting event watched or listened to during the Whitlam years. Gough and Margaret had their own kinky pastimes, however, and there would be many old-timers who would argue that in a pure sense it was all sport though probably not one for spectators.

Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton was a first class cricket umpire who was highly regarded in international circles. Billy Hughes was the founding patron of the Glebe Rugby League Club in 1908 and remained a Dirty Red throughout his Prime Ministership, a loyalty that didn’t really crossover to his politics. Chris Watson became the inaugural club patron of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Arthur Fadden founded the North Queensland Rugby League, now a rugby league heartland. Alfred Deakin was an Australian Rules follower who once said “I have yet to find a game that carries as much pleasure, as much harmless excitement, and as much enjoyment as the Australasian game of football”. Sir Robert Menzies was a cricket tragic who once had a television installed in his car so he could watch he Ashes Test matches while he travelled around England and Europe. He was also a lifelong devotee to the Carlton Football Club. Bob Hawke was a talented cricketer who nearly played first class cricket in England and loved nothing more than a punt and a beer at the track. Peter Costello is a dyed in the wool Bomber. But he, of course, was never Prime Minister. His cheap attachment to the Cronulla Sharks certainly didn’t help his cause on that front. The Costello-Sharks union was a natural fit based on the characteristics of gutlessness and perennial failure but it was never going to be one that ended well.

Australia’s last and greatest modern day Prime Minister John Howard certainly belongs in the latter camp, a true sports fan whose love for cricket and rugby league has been constant throughout his life. Howard may look like a geek but he is a jock at heart that would rather be mixing it on the cricket pitch or the football field than in the art gallery or the theatre. Sport is his natural constituency. He is a natural general who craves tangible results and enjoys the battle to determine a winner and a loser.

His love of rugby league certainly cannot be questioned. He has supported the Dragons before he idolised Menzies. When Prime Minister he never missed a Grand Final or a Dally M night and he directed funding to a rugby league hall of fame, funding subsequently withdrawn after the last election by the Rudd regime. Rugby league has been an abiding passion of his since the days of the great Dragons teams of Sticks and Ken Kearney and Johnny Raper and Reg Gasnier and probably before.

When John Howard was dumped not only from Government but by those ungrateful swine in Bennelong, it was tough to see any silver lining on the heavy grey clouds. After all Howard had done for Australia, he was beaten and humiliated by the cheap chardonnay swilling scumbags and the gullibility of the Asian immigrants who believed the McKew pushed line that he was a racist and anti-immigration. It was a sad night in Australian politics. All hope seemed lost. Less than two years later, however, the silver lining has emerged and hope has returned.

The beloved former Prime Minister is being courted to run the greatest game of all. It is match made in heaven, a perfect fit for a game that needs leadership and a leader that wants to contribute.

The number one problem in rugby league is a lack of leadership and consistency in administration. Rugby league in Australia has suffered from cronyism for generations. It has led to a completely dysfunctional administrative structure that has held the sport back for many years. Rugby league has flourished in Australia in spite of its administration, not because of it. Only the beauty and popularity of the sport has allowed it to retain its place as one of the two premier winter sports in Australia. From the days of Quayle and Arthurson and probably before then, the main goal of administrators has been a maintenance of their power base and a protection of their position. The post-Super League compromise only exacerbated this problem as a major media organisation was now heavily invested in the sport and expected a major say in the running of the code. This meant that not only were organisations such as the New South Wales Rugby League, the Queensland Rugby League and the Country Rugby League existing under the banner of the Australian Rugby League but they were doing so without direct answerability or accountability to the ARL. Then there is the fact the ARL and News Limited shared power in the running of the primary competition, the NRL. Further complicating matters were television rights negotiated with News Limited by a game half owned by News Limited and the fact certain clubs like Melbourne have been entirely funded by News Limited cash.

While the AFL has managed to maximise its product through a professionally run streamlined administration since an independent commission assumed national governance of the sport in 1993, rugby league has been hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape, cheap politics and self-interest. Where Andrew Demetriou has almost total power as CEO of the AFL, David Gallop needs to play the role of mediator among the many organisations that have a power base in the game. It has hurt rugby league’s bankability markedly.

Thankfully, rugby league is moving towards an independent commission with the game likely to follow a similar model used by the AFL. It will happen and it will happen before the next television deal in 2012. Pushed by Gold Coast boss and future NRL CEO Michael Searle and embraced by the clubs who will be the long-term beneficiaries, the groundwork is being laid for an independent commission. The current owners of the game, News Limited and the ARL are also supportive. News Limited wants out for a number of reasons but want to protect the product for pay television and new media reasons and as such won’t hand the game back to the ARL while the ARL boss Colin Love recognises the necessity to streamline the game. An independent commission is not a matter of if but when. The game has even been given $11 million in funding from the Federal Government to streamline the sport. The primary issue will be finding the right people with a knowledge of league but without owing any patronage to a faction or organisation to control the sport and sit on the commission.

The man to lead that group and the sport of rugby league is John Howard.

Even those who loathe his politics and find him a contemptible human being have no choice but to admit that he is a master politician who gets things done. He is resilient, a master tactician who has the courage of his convictions to push through his ideas in the face of stiff opposition. This is exactly what rugby league needs, a statesman who will make things happen.

Howard busted up the unions, gutted a reluctant public service, reformed the tax system and held the Costello faction in check so crushing, reforming or handling the likes of the CRL, the QRL and the NSWRL won’t prove too difficult for him. He is a man who has never feared a challenge and who has never allowed political inertia to dictate policy.

Rugby league in Australia will be better off with John Howard at the helm. It is that simple. Anybody who argues otherwise is too ignorant to be listened too. Howard is our man. And his moment of redemption is just around the corner. He is the man that cannot be killed. And rugby league is the game that will not die. Together, we soar.

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