NRL’s naming rights sponsor, Telstra, reportedly placed pressure on the code to fix bad player behaviour as the telco feared reputational damage in light of Jack de Belin’s high-profile court case.
Dubbed the “Summer of Hell”, the NRL filed court documents in response to Jack de Belin’s Federal Court appeal over the no-fault stand-down policy, which forces the Dragons player off the field while he goes through the court system on aggravated sexual assault charges.
De Belin lost his legal challenge against the policy in June and filed an appeal in the Federal Court against Judge Melissa Perry’s decision.
In his appeal, de Belin argued the judge was wrong by finding the public and media would think, despite the presumption of innocence, that he sexually assaulted the 19-year-old complainant.
In its response, the NRL argued that when players are charged with serious offences, it has a negative effect not just on the player and his club, but the NRL as a whole.
“Over the last three years the elite men’s rugby league competition in Australia and New Zealand has been beset by a series of scandals involving player misconduct and allegations of player misconduct,” the NRL’s submission reads.
“On average, between 2015 and 2018, an NRL player was implicated in an off-field scandal every 22 days.
“Many of these incidents have involved violent assaults, particularly against women.”
The NRL said that after the de Belin allegations broke, Telstra raised serious concerns its brand was being ruined by the governing body not cracking down on players behaving badly.
“Telstra — the naming rights sponsor of the NRL having a week earlier privately complained of reputational damage to their brand and demanded tough action — publicly congratulated the NRL ‘on their strong stance, reflecting community standards and moving closer to the values that Telstra upholds’,” the submission reads.
NIB CEO, Mark Fitzgibbon, also emailed NRL boss Todd Greenberg during the de Belin fallout, with the submission revealing the company’s sponsorship was at risk if something was nothing was not done about poor player behaviour.
The submission also stated that White Ribbon, a campaign calling for an end to violence against women, contacted the NRL shortly after de Belin was charged, stating it was “concerned about the recent trend of allegations of abuse against multiple NRL players, and believe the alleged behaviour is unacceptable.”
It’s also understood that representatives from a number of clubs reported to the NRL that they were struggling to sell key sponsorship details.
The NRL’s submission concludes by saying that de Belin’s appeal should be dismissed, noting the allegations he is facing were “contrary to the game’s values” and attracted extensive negative media attention which could have a damaging impact on the game.