Bulldogs: The juggernaut can be defeated
The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless vandalism and under the stimulus of passions most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Karl Marx Historical Tendencies of Capitalist Accumulation by Marcus Browning It was instructive to see the reaction of Bulldogs supporters to revelations about corrupt activities in their rugby league club. When their team last month had 37 competition points taken away because the club cheated the player payments system, and so were relegated from the top to the bottom of the competition, the supporters knew who to blame. They demanded nothing less than the heads of the club board members. And they were spot on, as the events which quickly unfolded showed. The supporters wasted no time in collecting 5000 signatures on a petition demanding that club President Gary McIntyre resign, which he reluctantly did, proclaiming his innocence. "I have never acted improperly or unlawfully in any position I have held", said McIntyre. "I am confident that any inquiries or investigations will clear me of any wrongdoing." The overpayment of players involved the manipulation of figures to breach the National Rugby League's salary cap. Under the salary cap system each club is limited to $3.25 million per season for player payments. Over the past two seasons the Bulldogs have paid their players more than $1 million over the cap, i.e. they have cheated so as to sign up and keep on contract more than their fair share of the higher skilled players. In other words the club kept two sets of figures; one official set which they showed the League and another secret set with the overpayments. As South Sydney club President George Piggins pointed out: "If we go into a car yard with the same amount of money and they leave with a Volvo and I leave with a Holden, does that mean they're better shoppers than me? I don't think so." McIntyre is also the chief executive of the Oasis project — a joint venture between the Bulldogs club and the Liverpool City Council — in Woodward Park in the Liverpool Council municipality. He is implicated in the transfer of $900,000 out of that project to fund part the over-the-cap payments to Bulldogs players. Liverpool City Council is now being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in connection with the $900 million Oasis project. Oasis will have a casino (belonging to the Bulldogs), a 35,000-seat stadium, a 6000-seat basketball arena, a swimming complex and retail and residential developments. Cooking the books is hardly stunning news: corporate crime is rife after all. When it comes to making profits, which is what those who control and run sport are all about, what's so surprising about cheating on a payment system? But the way things have turned out, the exposure of secret overpayments to players was simply the hiccup that brought down a huge house of cards. McIntyre was just one part of a quagmire of rorts, kick-backs, rip-offs and under-the-table deals involving Liverpool Council, Oasis, the Bulldogs club, the ICAC and the Labor Party. President of the Bulldogs club is an honorary position that comes with a small compensatory payment. McIntyre took the honours, plus a fee for the legal services he provides to the Bulldogs from his law firm — between $115,000 and $200,000 per year — plus a luxury car. His wife is employed at the leagues club, as a consultant, as is his son- in-law, as head of maintenance. His son is employed on the Oasis project as financial director on a $200,000 salary while McIntyre's Oasis package is also $200,000 plus bonuses. And as more of the cards fell the Carr Government became implicated with a former media consultant at Oasis, Mark Wells, claiming the Minister for Mineral Resources and Fisheries, Eddie Obeid, put his hand out for a different kind of "overpayment". Wells says Obeid told McIntyre two years ago he'd fast-track the project to beat the introduction of legislation limiting the number of poker machines in NSW, from a maximum of 600 per venue to 450. This favour would be in exchange for a $1 million donation to the ALP. Obeid has denied the allegation: "I would be more than happy to answer any questions at an ICAC inquiry." Trouble is, ICAC has its own little house of cards with ICAC Commissioner Irene Moss having to excuse herself from the whole affair because of her husband and his bank. Allan Moss is managing director and chief executive officer of Macquarie Bank, which started out as an investor in Oasis but is currently suing the Bulldogs-Liverpool Council joint venture for bank fees. Where to now? We need only to go back to recent history to see what ails the code of rugby league (or whatever your particular branch of sport may be) and what may be its salvation. The blatant hijacking of the game in the 1990s by Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer for their pay television broadcasts saw an attempt at corporate restructuring. In this restructure there was a high attrition rate with some clubs forced to merge and one, South Sydney, cut altogether. The leagues clubs, community based and democratically accountable to members, are being converted into franchises. Their names are now corporate logos, brand names with their specific locality removed (the Bulldogs were Canterbury-Bankstown, the Sharks were Cronulla-Sutherland, the Tigers were Balmain, etc). These franchises — so the corporate plan goes — may be picked up out of their locality and relocated in another city, another state, another country. As a result they will no longer be attached to communities or accountable to members. The strong community support that resulted in the South Sydney club being reinstated after being dumped in the Murdoch-Packer rationalisation, was an important victory. In its way it reverberated through other sports and other communities. It was a demonstration that, for all its power, the corporate juggernaut can be defeated.