When sport stars go bad

AUSTRALIANS love their sport, and their sports stars; but is the nation too forgiving when they go off the rails?

In the '90s, Australian cricketers Mark Waugh and Shane Warne were found to have taken money from a bookmaker in exchange for match information. The Australian Cricket Board attempted to hush the matter up and they were allowed to play on after a fine. Warne later received a 12-month ban for taking a banned substance, but resumed his career afterwards.

In 2008 Nick D'Arcy attacked Simon Cowley, fracturing his jaw, eye socket, hard palate, cheekbone and nose. He was banned from the 2008 Olympics but returned for the 2012 Olympics. He never went to jail for the assault and declared bankruptcy to avoid paying compensation due to his victim.

At the 2012 London Olympics, the Australian swim team were accused of "toxic behaviour". This included "misuse of prescription drugs, drunkenness and bullying". D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk were banned from social media after posting a photo of themselves online holding guns.

Over the years, numerous AFL, NRL and rugby union players have become embroiled in betting scandals, rape allegations, off-field violence, drug taking and dealing. They rarely get life bans from their sports.

Andrew Johns, an outstanding league player, tarnished his reputation with drugs and racist comments; his reward was a lucrative job as a television commentator.

Okay, these people are only human, and they make mistakes like the rest of us. However they are also role models for impressionable young people.

Where the offences are subject to prosecution and jail sentences, the offenders often receive suspended sentences or very lenient jail time. Too many times these sports stars, often highly paid for their services, escape with a rap over the knuckles, fines or short suspensions.

I believe the sentences handed down to these high-profile people should be harsher. If more were banned for life from competing then sport might be cleaned up, and once more confined to the back pages of the newspapers instead of making front page headlines; to the end of the news instead of the beginning.

Too often the power of the dollar or the craving for success decides the fate of recalcitrant sports stars, not the desire to mete out appropriate punishment for bad or downright criminal behaviour.

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