Bill Gibbons (Group 2 referees), Jim Woodlock (AFL North Coast), Peter Rowe (North Coast Football) and Des Hoy (MNC Rugby) after signing the deal to share information regarding suspended players.
Bill Gibbons (Group 2 referees), Jim Woodlock (AFL North Coast), Peter Rowe (North Coast Football) and Des Hoy (MNC Rugby) after signing the deal to share information regarding suspended players. ROB WRIGHT

Football code loophole closes

THE loophole allowing footballers to switch codes after being found guilty of major misdemeanours is being closed.

At the instigation of Group 2 Rugby League judiciary chairman Bill Gibbons, a historic memorandum of understanding has been co-signed by Jim Woodlock (AFL North Coast), Peter Rowe (North Coast Football) and Des Hoy (Mid North Coast Rugby Union) to end the practice of “code-hopping”.

“For some time all the football codes have had their own unique systems, whereby players found guilty of misconduct have been suspended, fined or disciplined,” Gibbons said.

“Too often this has resulted in players simply swapping to another sport or code and the history of these players has been unknown to their new code.

“Each of us believes we can no longer just hand our problems over for somebody else to take care of.

“We have a moral obligation to uphold the reputation of sport, as much as for our own individual codes, as well as giving some guidance and sense of responsibility to the players themselves when they run off the rails.”

The scheme was mooted after a brawl in the 2009 Group 2 grand final.

After lengthy suspensions from league were handed out, a number of players switched their attention to Sawtell Saints, where AFL president Jim Woodlock reported they wasted no time wearing out their welcome.

“Fortunately they only lasted with us a short period before we had to move them along,” he said.

“Like Group 2 now do, we’ve moved to publishing details of cases before the tribunal and the chances of that happening again under this new agreement have been substantially reduced.”

In more recent times, league and union have had cross-code problems at under-age level and rugby administrator Des Hoy said the agreement would strengthen conventions already in place.

“A convention has always been there in league and union to share information and stand problem players down, but once this news gets around it will give us more strength to act if somebody misbehaves badly,” he said.

In future, when one body determines a matter of discipline, the other three will be notified of the outcome.

Codes will still have autonomy and can choose not to take further action but all four signatories maintain this would only occur in exceptional circumstances.

“The main purposes of this memorandum are to prevent violence in sport, towards match officials, fellow players and spectators,” Gibbons said.

“Not only do we intend to prevent players with a history of violence and misconduct on a sporting field from participating, we intend to ensure they have ample time to consider their actions.

“This can only enhance the public image of sport as being run and played by responsible people.”

North Coast Football chairman Peter Rowe not only welcomed the agreement but hoped it would open the door to further “grassroots” networking.

“Lately there’s been a lot of publicity about the four codes being in competition for players and while that will always be the case, in a city this size there are many more things we can share,” he said.

“Getting together every now and then gives an avenue to liaise about a whole range of things.

“From insurance, ground costs and keeping the fees down for parents, to the endless search for volunteers to keep sport alive, we have lots in common.

“Even if it’s to sit around together and to have a beer, we can help each other out in many occasions.”



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