The sudden introduction of a new rule could potentially leave some AFL and NRL teams unable to field a team in the coming weeks, and it has nothing to do with COVID-19.
The rule will require every AFL and NRL team to field at least one player who has been nominated for The Fronwlow Medal or The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame. Without a Frownlow nominee, teams will have to forfeit.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while NRL star Jarryd Hayne is the most recent recipient.
The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.
“We have supplied many, many nominees for The Fronwlow Medal and The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame since the award’s inception in 2015,” began a joint statement from the codes.
“Every winner of the medal has played NRL or AFL, and this rule change recognises that contribution and plays tribute to the countless players who have committed off-field scandals and remained in their teams, as well as the players who will surely commit another scandal this season – maybe even tomorrow.”
Not every club is happy with the sudden rule change. While every team in both codes is likely to have at least one nominee on their roster, injuries and COVID-19 illness could force some of them to miss games and force the team to forfeit, losing valuable competition points.
Clubs are also concerned about the reaction of sponsors, but they were reminded that most sponsors happily ignore off-field scandals if they know the sponsorship brings them PR or profit.
“Half our teams are sponsored by gambling companies, and half the players get nominated due to gambling, so sponsors needn’t worry,” explained administrators, before adding:
“Our various stand-alone rounds recognise sectors of the community. Pride round honours the LGBT+ community, Women’s round honours women and Indigenous round honours first nations people. This rule allows us to honour the behaviour of our players over the years, and the ability of many of them to get away with it.”
The rule was developed in consultation with the judges of The Fronwlow Medal, and for this reason it excluded players from Super Rugby and the A League. Super Rugby players receive few nominations, and for some reason, A League players almost none.