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Thursday, December 11, 2008

AFL Backs Down on Cousins

It sure has been quiet in the world of AFL misbehaviour. Sadly, that might end with news that the AFL has backed down on its year-long sanction of Ben Cousins.

We're presently in the grip of a will-he or won't-he media frenzy, with reports that Brisbane, St Kilda and now Richmond might take the risky old player. Adding fuel were reports that the player found the onerous drug-testing conditions too strict.

Meanwhile, the AFL players' union (under Brendon Gale) keeps banging on about how unnecessary all those extra drug tests are. It wouldn't have anything to do with the move essentially conceding that the present regime is inadequate for the job or detecting and deterring drug use, would it? Especially the dreaded long-term "hair test" - though easily bypassed by a shorn 'do, as worn by Cousins. Naturally, the AFLPA would like to renegotiate the players' terms to compensate them for any forced absence of drugs. Mr Gale, feel free to use the online AFL Drug Calculator to work help work out just how much compensation is needed.

Of wider concern is that this climb-down will signal that infamous Malthouse Doctrine is back in full swing. For those who don't know, this is the idea that an elite group of players at each club is so indispensable that they can never be sanction, banned or dropped and, as such, can do what they like. The idea was eloquently articulated by Collingwood's Mick Malthouse after the brutal and vicious car-park kicking involving Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson:

"The fact that Chris and Ben are crucial to the on-field success of Collingwood has influenced my decision. Had they been youngsters on the fringe of selection, I might have thought a playing ban was in order.

"I suspect I'll be criticised for admitting this - what's new? - but you are kidding yourself if you think it would happen differently anywhere else. Different players get treated differently.
Perhaps if we were 15th, like last year, I would be thinking differently." (The Age, 4/8/2006)

Clearly, this is a dangerous idea and one that we at The Speccy believe lies at the heart of so much of the criminal and scandalous behaviour we see. The AFL finally decided to tackle it head on to protect the wider interests of the game in the face of the short-sighted selfishness of the clubs. Cousins' crackdown was the vehicle for that.

To test this idea, we've prepared an analysis of the effect of Ben Cousins being dropped by the AFL on general lawlessness and scandal by AFL players. The Speccy combed through our own copious records plus the ever-useful Wikipedia article (also edited by us). The results speak for themselves: since the AFL crackdown, general behaviour has improved remarkably.

What this analysis doesn't show is that the seriousness of criminality has dropped too: there's still a base-rate of traffic offences and the like, but the bashings are way down and rapes in particular have dropped right away. Of course, this could be a reporting bias, but it really does look like the AFL has cleaned up its image at a time when other codes are still under pressure.

The data points include current AFL players who involved themselves in off-field misbehaviour resulting in either a police investigation, criminal charges, a court appearance or a front-page media story. Data for 2004 is very patchy, since The Speccy only started in 2005. You can check out the incidents in question in this table and find out more using the search engine on the right (enter names into Background Check and click Scan).

The AFL and its fans should keep this in mind over the weekend as the final deliberations on Cousins' fate continue. Any backsliding now could jeopardise the progress seen in 2008, resulting in an unwelcome return to form in 2009.

*** UPDATE ***

A version of the above graph and analysis was published in Crikey for the edification of a wider audience.

Naturally, Ben Cousins was picked up Richmond and despite the above arguments he's now going to play for the Tigers. There were a couple of unfortunate Freudian slips, with Richmond Vice-Captain Nathan Foley remarking that "It's unfortunate what's happened in the past, looking before that he is such a great player and has had so many highs, his ability on game day is something so many people admire." AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou blurted "he sets an example for what can be achieved if you turn your mind to being positive". Hmmm. He then went on to describe Richmond's decision as "courageous", in the best traditions of Yes, Minister.

And, true to form, there was an incident within a few days of Ben Cousins' re-instatement, with Hawthorn's Brent Renouf arrested and expected to be charged over his drunken rampage:

Hawthorn ruckman Brent Renouf is expected to be charged with criminal damage offences after being arrested by police over the weekend.

The 20-year-old premiership player allegedly leapt onto the boot of a car parked on Burwood Rd, Hawthorn near the Geebung Polo Club, the Herald-Sun reports.

Police confirmed the man was apprehended by police on nearby Henry St at around 1am Sunday.

A spokeswoman told the Herald Sun the player would be charged on summons. (NineMSN, 22/12/2008)

Yep, that's one drunken bogan who knows he's beyond reproach since the AFL has once again green-lighted anti-social, arrogant buffoonery. With the shackles now off and the Malthouse Doctrine in full-swing, we're gearing up for a worrying 2009.

Citations: The Age, 4/8/2006

Word Count: 692

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