STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Written on the 18 March 2015 by Jenna Rathbone
A BRISBANE sports lawyer says controversies such as the Titans cocaine drug scandal leaves all involved between a rock and a hard place.
Tim Fuller (pictured below), who formerly played professionally in the NRL for South Sydney and the Gold Coast, says from a legal perspective the situation has created a set of circumstances that are very difficult and challenging for sports administrators and authorities alike.
Although yesterday it was announced that all five players caught up in the NRL scandal will be reinstated, Fuller says the club still has every right to stand down and even terminate player's contracts should they have sufficient evidence that those involved have brought the club into disrepute.
The players agree under the NRL playing contract to be bound by and comply with the NRL code of conduct and anti-doping rules, and as long as the action that the Titans take is contractual and separate from the criminal process, it is a valid course of action says Fuller.
"In a general sense this notion that a club cannot act until a criminal matter is resolved is nonsense," says Fuller.
"What you have that is interesting is two quite separate courses of action. It is commonly raised that players should be afforded a presumption of innocence, that is true, particularly in relation to the criminal charges, but then you have a sport that has a right to protect its reputation, brand and integrity.
"If the club has enough information that shows that the players have brought the sport into disrepute and there has been misconduct, then they have every right to stand them down or, on occasion, terminate their contracts.
"Ultimately, you have this charge in alleged criminal activity and then you have the employment contractual action - it becomes a really tricky situation."
Fuller says he believes the club has acted responsibly in instructing senior counsel to provide advice on their options in relation to continuing sanctions against the players.
"The advice came back saying 'hold fire wait until criminal matters are determined'. Based on that advice, the club has rightfully reinstated the players," says Fuller.
Fuller adds that it would have been a hard decision and says these situations drive fear into organisations, with the question of "what if" lodged in the minds of administrators.
In 2009, Sydney FC star Sebastian Ryall was charged with engaging in a sex act with a 13-year-old girl. Ryall was suspended from participation in football matches in Australia and was stood down from the national youth team by Football Federation Australia before the case went to trial. He was later cleared of all charges.
Origin stars Greg Bird, Dave Taylor and Beau Falloon have been cleared to play in this Sunday's squad against the Knights. Jamie Dowling and Kalifa Faifai Loa will make an appearance in the Intrust Supercup fixtures on Saturday and Sunday.
The Titans hired Sydney SC Tony Bannon who has confirmed he has considered all relevant information available, including police reports, individual player contracts, the NRL rules and code of conduct.
A statement released by the club says: "In his comprehensive formal advice Mr Bannon concludes that given the circumstances and alternatives the better course is for the club to 'stay its hand on disciplinary action until the criminal proceedings have been determined'. On the basis of this advice the board has resolved to allow the charged players to return to playing and training duties pending the outcome of the legal process.
"In accepting the legal advice in relation to the specific circumstances of these charges, the board reaffirms its determination to continue to take strong action as and when required to protect and enhance the reputation of the Gold Coast Titans in the eyes of the community and the sporting world generally.
"Should any of the current allegations ultimately be proven in the courts, in assessing any subsequent disciplinary action the board will be mindful of the serious reputational and financial damage the club has already suffered."
Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.Connect via: Twitter