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Why I’ve dumped State of Origin

26 May

I’m no footy-head but I used to love watching State of Origin. For the uninitiated, State of Origin is a series of three rugby league games between New South Wales and Queensland. It’s the closest thing to a modern-day gladiatorial contest that you will ever see.  As a kid, I would sit up with my Dad who would whoop and holler at the enormity of the ‘hits’ in the first 10 minutes. At Uni, we’d order pizza and 20 people would crowd around a 30cm TV to cheer on the home side (NSW). Last night, for the first time in about 20 years, I switched off after about 10 minutes. The inevitable has happened. I can no longer separate the off-field antics of the players from the on-field heroics.

It might seem a strange topic for this blog – but I subscribe to the view that there are plenty of other women out there, who like me, have grown up with Origin as part of their sport-watching calender; it’s a pretty incredible display of skill and physicality. But last night, as I listened to the TV commentary, gushing in its praise of the players abilities, I had a simultaneous commentary running in my head – Thaiday passes to Boyd – both were sprung receiving sexual favours from a woman in a toilet a couple of years ago. Boyd off-loads to ‘game legend’ Lockyer, who in 2008 admitted to being too drunk to remember tackling the owner of a pub, and here comes Thurston, who was arrested last year for drunk and disorderly behaviour. He’s tackled by NSW Captain, Paul Gallen, who in 2009 was caught urinating in public.

In short, too many of the players have had run-ins with the law – most of them relating to alcohol. But – get this – both NSW and QLD have beer companies as their major sponsors! It’s breathtakingly inappropriate, given the game’s current image. Alcohol appears to be a major problem for many (not all) players, and therefore the game’s image. The sooner the NRL faces up to that in a real and significant way, the better. And the best place to start is by banning alcohol companies as sponsors.

I read a refreshingly honest interview with former NSW (great) player, Brad Fittler, in a publication called ‘The Beast’ where he was asked why young players feel the need to get on the booze. He said ‘They want chicks – that’s the answer, chicks.. a lot of them can’t just walk up to a good-looking bird unless they’ve got ten beers under their belt.. And I suppose for some of them it’s a bit of an escape from reality too. When they’re on the booze they feel like they can just switch off.’

It’s not admirable but at least someone is finally being honest about the issue of league players, women and alcohol. For me, enough is enough. The off-field troubles have robbed me of my ability to enjoy the game. I can’t applaud the physical feats of men whose behaviour I find morally troubling. In two weeks, QLD will again take on NSW in the second game of the series. I’ll be watching Masterchef.