We at The Match Referee don't make a habit of commenting on AFL matters, even though the game is one which we closely follow. However, recent events on the Ben Cousins comeback trail have left me appalled at the direction in which Australian sport is travelling. Yes, Cousins was a drug addict. Yes, he abandoned his car and ran from a booze bus. Yes, he made all the mistakes in the book, and then some. Question that begs is whether his recent acts of repentance are enough to grant him a second chance?
Both Collingwood and St Kilda have considered the situation in some depth. Meetings with private investigators and state police commissioners were set up to assess the viability of Cousins moving to either Melbourne club. It is an absolute travesty that it was the voice of a consortium of sponsors that forced the hand of both clubs in pulling out of the race. What's more is that both clubs did not have the gumption to put the real reason to their fans, instead hiding behind utter hogwash about how Ben Cousins may affect team morale or the like.
As a Collingwood fan I was over the moon when Collingwood and Eddie McGuire were the early contenders to procure Cousins' services. For mine, it would have ranked as the biggest coup of McGuire and Mick Malthouse's reign at the great club. A midfield consisting of Cousins and our talented youngsters would have given us serious street cred in challenging for the flag.
Alas, it now seems that the Brisbane Lions are the only club with any remote interest in drafting the former West Coast Eagles captain. Word has it that coach Michael Voss will have the final say. Really? Will the Lions' sponsors not interfere if Voss wants one B Cousins on his playing roster?
If there is one thing going for Cousins calling Brisbane home, it is that new coach Voss has almost been given a free hand to mould his own team. Being a player until only very recently and possessing the skill and charm to take someone like Cousins under his wise tutelage, might be the only planks on which Voss may be able to convince the Lions' sponsors and Board.
It is this requirement to gain sponsor approval before recruiting players that simply bewilders and angers me. The sponsors do not create, manage or run AFL clubs or any other sporting body. They chip in money so that they can leech off the highs and build their brands off the back-breaking deeds of the players. In this era of specialisation, I simply cannot understand a club's propensity to give in to the selfish demands of sponsors who are clearly not specialists at managing football departments.
Why is it that us footy fans have to be denied the opportunity to witness and celebrate the skill and class of one of the greatest players to grace an AFL field? Would the public stop buying Jeld Wen windows and doors if Cousins went to St Kilda? Seriously?
I think the argument that a player who thrills and entertains on the park will draw more people to the ground and create more exposure for the sponsors is infinitely more solid and plausible.
Bluntly put, this is yet another case of a decision made by clumps in suits with very little appreciation for the real world and the real sports fan. To hand over all power to commercial interest groups is an abominable path for any sporting organisation to take, especially when it involves the future of one the greatest ever.
Former junkie or not, Ben Cousins deserves a second chance. Shame be to those who deny him the opportunity.
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