The Brownlow Medal 2020 ceremony usually takes place in Melbourne, but this year’s event was spread out across Australia.
The bulk of the players in the Queensland bubble were at an event at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast.
And there were events in Perth and Adelaide, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne.
Things may be all over the place due to coronavirus, but the footy stars and their partners still delivered looks — even though attendees were reportedly told they didn’t need to follow a strict black tie dress code this year.
Here’s who dressed up and who didn’t (spoiler alert: everyone did).
The Brisbane Lions’ Lachie Neale and partner Julie didn’t hold back, with the new first lady of footy donning a sheer floor-length gown and tousled waves.
And Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston rocked a suit and a face mask, captioning his Instagram outfit post: “Brownlow Medal Victorian Style.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Christian Petracca and his partner Bella were #Brownlow ready in Brisbane.
The Brisbane Lions’ Charlie Cameron went for a suave dark velvet ensemble, with his partner Caitlin Seeto in an equally elegant black number.
West Coast Eagles player Luke Shuey and his partner Dani were dressed to the nines.
Shuey said he was disappointed not to be playing this weekend.
Melbourne’s Jack Viney and his wife Charlotte posed for pictures with their baby daughter Mila Grace.
And the Sydney Swans’ Luke Parker cut a dapper figure next to partner Kate Lawrence, who stood out in a red number.
Equally sharp were the Melbourne Demons’ Steven May and partner Briana.
The Western Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Libatore brought their fashion A game, both rocking up to the Gold Coast event in style.
Libatore’s suit even covered up his, “My god you’re greasy” tattoo.
Former rugby league player Ian Roberts works with the NRL, running player workshops about harassment and sexual abuse.
He believes education is key.
“The NRL are kind of on the front foot but it’s a conversation that needs to be taken to the next level … the conversation needs to be had in the boardrooms.”
Roberts admits harassment and abuse is still a bit of a taboo subject when it comes to footy.
He wants people to start talking about it, particularly around finals time.
“Rugby union, AFL, league, soccer, tennis — all the big ones need to have the conversation because that pushes things along and makes it public,” he says.
Respect Victoria is trying to do just that.
The organisation is dedicated to preventing family violence and violence against women.
At the helm is Tracey Gaudry, who became the AFL’s first female chief executive back in 2017 when she was appointed by Hawthorn.
“Sports is traditionally male dominated and therefore that unhealthy hyper masculinity can come forward in terms of power or rights,” Gaudry says.
So during these finals, Respect Victoria is urging people to call out gender inequality both on and off the field.
“Statistics show that rates of domestic violence spike during major sporting events,” Gaudry says.
“During the 2018 State of Origin, police callouts for family violence rose 40 per cent.”
She’s also concerned that coronavirus could compound those figures.
“The impact of coronavirus on the home has caused an increase in family violence,” she said.
“We are very worried about the compounding effects of football finals and the ongoing COVID restrictions.”
Sports broadcaster Emma Race is passionate about reaching equality and has worked with Our Watch, which prevents violence against women and children.
“It is men that are holding the positions of power still in sport and media, so they are essential to this conversation and we need them to come along with us, we can’t do this without them,” she says
Groups like Ladies who League are also working towards change by celebrating women in sport.
“Now that women in sport are more visible across the board, not just playing but in administration, the media, refereeing, you can only be what you can see,” Ladies who League founder Mary Konstantopoulos says.
“Now young boys and girls want to not only be like James Tedesco, but Sam Bremner and Kezie Apps. That visibility is so important and a powerful message not just for women but boys because they will grow up in a world where that’s really normal,” she says.
Her organisation works with the NRL and has been supportive of actions taken like the “no-fault stand down policy” and the “voice against violence program”.
“The NRL is doing a lot but I want to say they can do more, we can all do more,” she says.
During this NRL season, the most conspicuous red smear has not been the blood wiped across the face of the prop who has copped a stray elbow. It’s been the sea of red ink covering the game’s ledger.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has done a wonderful job keeping the competition running and, particularly, boosting the game’s morale in the most trying circumstances. But Pugnacious Pete is an inspiring wartime leader, not a human ATM.
The NRL expects to lose $150 million this season, most notably from the media-rights money lost when its deals with Nine and Fox Sports were renegotiated. Those losses extend into future seasons.
Meanwhile, competition leader Penrith revealed last month it would bleed $12 million in ticket sales and other projected revenue during a season that would normally fill the club’s coffers. Presumably, others have fared even worse.
Like society itself, it has been possible for rugby league to suspend thoughts of the future and the long-term economic havoc the pandemic will cause.
Struggling clubs have continued to sack coaches and pay out their lavish contracts, perpetuating just one of the profligate practices that had left the game more vulnerable to a sudden change of fortunes than it should have been given its media-rights riches.
But now the season is coming to an end, the bills are hitting the in-trays and axes are being sharpened.
But it is no less brutal when the human cost is revealed.
So, when a report was tabled valuing the NRL at up to $3.1 billion — as reported in The Australian on Monday — you can imagine the eyes of NRL and club officials lit up like smokers after a long-haul flight.
Beyond the valuation, the details of a potential injection of private equity capital are scant. Most notably, there is so far no thought of what control the game would forfeit for the cash that would allow it to continue business (pretty much) as usual.
Private equity investment in sport has become more common as other sources of revenue have been ravaged by COVID-19 restrictions.
The Italian Serie A and the English Cricket Board are just two organisations to have recently considered a revenue source that has traditionally been out of bounds.
In Australian sport, the potential influence of private investors has usually been considered contrary to a peak sporting body’s traditional standing as a not-for-profit organisation acting in the best interests of the sport as a whole.
So when the ARLC or the administration of any other sport ponders selling a stake in its operations, a pressing question arises: Is the sport (or even the peak league) theirs to sell?
You might argue the NRL belongs to the fans who monetise the game through their viewing habits; the clubs who continue to pull the strings for better or worse, or even the now-more-empowered players who are paid a percentage of the game’s revenue rather than mere weekly wages.
But if the actual deed to rugby league is hard to locate, there remains that vague general belief rugby league is owned by and on behalf of its various stakeholders, including the grassroots clubs and participants at the foot of the game’s trickle-down economy.
So what happens when you introduce another cashed-up but far less passionately invested owner? One with a sharp eye on profit projections and not much concern about whether the Canterbury Bulldogs can get out of the cellar or the local juniors can put a junior team on the park?
What promises would need to be made about financial accountability and profitability by a game that has, by its own admission, run a billion-dollar business like a cash bar at a suburban club to get a hand on those investor billions?
Even after the redundancies at NRL headquarters, you can assume there will be more cutbacks across NRL clubs and the game itself. Grassroots programs will suffer, as will potential growth areas such as women’s rugby league.
The ARLC might contend this will allow it to present to investors a lean competition with a large component of its media-rights contract locked in, one with the capacity to grow significantly when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
But clubs that see private-equity cash as an immediate solution to their current financial plight should be wary.
The kind of investors with a spare billion or two will be far less sentimental than the local sponsors who pay over the odds to drink beer with club executives in corporate boxes and mingle with players in the sheds or at the annual dinner.
They certainly won’t have the same historical attachment to each of the nine remaining Sydney NRL clubs struggling to make ends meet in an intensely crowded sporting market.
You might argue the ARLC is desperately in need of the kind of bookkeeping accountability a major private investor would insist upon. That a billion-dollar game can’t prosper with its nickel-and-dime economy.
But before cashing private equity cheques, the ARLC and its stakeholders would do well to remember the next time potential belt-tightening measures including mergers and relocations are on the table, it would not just be the old club warlords and rugby-league-loving NRL administrators who are deciding the fate of the century-old game.
Jetta – who has been targeted with racist trolling on social media this year, along with fellow Indigenous AFL players including Eddie Betts and Harley Bennell – said strong action to stop such attacks was “the next step in the journey to reconciliation”.
“We’ve pushed for a lot of things, Aboriginal people, but now it’s time for the Attorney-General to lead the country in something that can … show what is happening right now in Australia is not on, and there’s going to be accountability,” Jetta said.
He said Indigenous players had decided to take on racism this year, prompted in part by feeling more could have been done to combat abuse towards former Swans star Adam Goodes.
“We felt as players that we didn’t do enough and we weren’t going to let that happen again. And whoever it was, how little or how big the slur was on social media, we were going to call it out, stand united as an Indigenous playing group and ask for support from our clubs, teammates and the football community,” he said.
The letter, initiated by AFL media commentator and teacher Shelley Ware, says: “In recent months, numerous athletes and personalities have been subjected to sustained racist attacks online, including through racist and demeaning language and images.
“As Aboriginal people, people of colour and allies, we are deeply concerned about the ongoing scourge of racism in Australia. Many of us have been personally targeted in harmful and repeated racist cyber attacks … we believe that there is a need for urgent, further action.”
Richmond Football Club CEO Brendon Gale – a signatory to the letter along with Carlton boss Cain Liddle, Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves and Melbourne Storm CEO Dave Donaghy – said racism towards Indigenous players had become “more notable” this year.
“It [racism] is prevalent. I don’t know why … maybe it’s being called out more as well,” Mr Gale said.
The letter was “about a national conversation about law reform and to shine a light on [racism]”, he said. “I’m proud of putting my name there because [racism] is becoming more notable and we want to continue to create an environment where everyone feels included.”
Former rugby league player Joe Williams said it was vital more was done to combat online racism because it was inflicting trauma that could create long-term harm to the wellbeing of those targeted.
“Racism triggers trauma, it doesn’t just impact on us at an emotional level. There is loads of research showing trauma can be deeply embedded and have long-term effects on our physiological health,” he said.
“If the government is serious about closing the gap when it comes to [Indigenous] health outcomes and life expectancy, then getting tougher on stuff like [racism online] should be one of those outcomes.”
Ms Ware, whose Instagram page was hit with organised racist attacks after she defended Betts, Chad Wingard and Jetta against abuse, said young Indigenous people were seeing increasing racism, and it was vital for their health to eradicate it.
“I think it’s escalating. People are having a go at [Indigenous] kids, players’ children, saying really vile things about them, and this is not being recognised by social media platforms,” she said.
Former Western Bulldogs vice-president Ms Alberti said she supported the campaign to increase accountability for racist trolling, because “it’s not on and we all need to call it out when we see it”.
“No matter our race, religion, gender, or even what football team we barrack for, we need to treat one another with respect in every forum.”
The Attorney-General said on Wednesday that the government condemned all forms of racism, an online safety act was in development to combat abuse and “there is a growing sense that online behaviour must have the same stringent rules applied to it as exists outside the internet”.
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Just hours earlier, 28-year-old pregnant woman Zoe Buhler live-streamed her arrest on social media after detectives descended on her Miners Rest home armed with a search warrant.
After being told she was under arrest, Ms Buhler, who was wearing pink pyjamas, began to cry and told officers she would “happily” delete her social media posts as police made demands for her mobile phones and computer equipment.
A police spokeswoman said they had become aware of a prohibited gathering being planned for Ballarat on Saturday and warned anyone thinking of attending the protest that they could expect a swift and firm response from police.
“Police executed a search warrant at a Miners Rest address this afternoon and a mobile device was seized. As a result, a 28-year-old female has been charged with the offence of incitement and has been bailed to appear at the Ballarat Magistrates Court on January 25,” they said.
“Any gathering of this nature is in blatant breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk.
“We will have no hesitation in issuing $1652 fines to anyone who is breaching the restrictions on the day, or making arrests if necessary.”
Ms Buhler’s Facebook page includes links to a “peaceful, freedom day” protest in the centre of the regional city on Saturday. The event itself has since been removed from Facebook.
It followed the arrest of two men earlier this week who had since been charged with incitement for allegedly encouraging others to take part in a prohibited anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne’s CBD this weekend.
A 28-year-old Coburg man and a 38-year-old Epping man, identified as Mr Panayides, were later released on bail to appear in court in February.
A police spokeswoman said investigators seized several items including mobile phones, laptops and postage items.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.
From people dedicated to an archaic form of tennis, to a 60-year-old table tennis association in a tiny sheep-farming community, country clubs for sports that usually fly under the radar are feeling the pinch of the pandemic.
Real tennis is an old form of the game played indoors, on a larger court, and similar to squash — you can hit the ball off the walls.
It is a heritage sport, a progenitor of modern lawn tennis, and one the members of the Ballarat Tennis Club takes pride in keeping alive.
But the club is now suffering under COVID-19.
“We’ve basically no income, it’s just stopped our income flat,” club committee member and player Catherine Faull said.
“Initially when it happened, we called out to members to pay their bills straight away so we could just get a handle on how much we had and what we needed to do.”
The club has around 120 members, who would normally pay a $399 early membership fee — out of goodwill, the club did not ask members to pay that fee this year, charging only for the month or so it was open.
The club was still working out the toll of that financial hit.
“We have a professional tennis player, Andrew Fowler, who is employed by the club … so that’s been hard for him, thank goodness the JobKeeper kept him going,” Ms Faull said.
Unlike Aussie Rules, or soccer, the fact real tennis exists as a played sport is due to clubs like Ballarat’s — without them, it could be relegated to the annals of history, like a language that ceases to exist when its last speaker dies.
“We’d love to keep it going because, historically, it’s fascinating and we’d love to preserve that,” Ms Faull said.
“We’re planning for future events, but we’re also realistic that this 40-year-old club is at risk, basically.”
Croquet members ‘keen as mustard’
The Ballarat Western Croquet Club has been running for more than a century — they have also lost significant amounts of income because of the pandemic.
“We’ve cancelled probably three or four competitions,” club secretary Jenny Leviston said.
“But the main thing that’s affected is the cancellation of our groups that come to visit … we use them as one of our main fundraisers.”
Croquet requires a pristine playing surface, and lawn maintenance is not cheap.
“The cost of chemicals is quite expensive, ” Ms Leviston said.
“We’ve got the greenkeepers cost, and just before Christmas last year, we spent over $3,000 top-dressing our lawns.
“We were hoping to get that money back with the competitions and the green fees in the new year, which we weren’t able to because we did have to stop playing very early in March.”
The clubs membership fees are kept low, as a lot of members are on fixed incomes — luckily, the croquet community is lively and dedicated, and so membership numbers haven’t plummeted over the last few months.
The club secured a State Government grant earlier in the year, but it was spent immediately on the water bill.
“The green-keeping is the main thing, and the water,” Ms Leviston said.
“Our last water bill before Christmas was nearly $1,000 … so that’s a lot of money for a little club.”
Ms Leviston is hopeful the tenacity of the members will see them through this difficult stretch.
“I’m positive that the club will keep going because I know that our members are as keen as mustard and they love to be out on the court playing,” she said.
Players keep it going in between sheep farming
David Rowbottom has been the president of the Orford and District Table Tennis Association since 1972 and he said despite the setbacks brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it will not be folding anytime soon.
The association was set up in the 1950s in the tiny south-west Victorian sheep-farming community of Orford, which had just over 100 residents at the 2016 census.
Mr Rowbottom said many similar associations had stopped operating over the years, but his club had a “tremendous core” of players that had stuck around for decades.
“It’s a great, clean sport and very rarely does anyone get injured,” he said.
The association usually has about 30 players but Mr Rowbottom said it was becoming more difficult to maintain numbers.
They carefully manage their funds and import high-quality tables from Germany and inherited some from the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
“Family farms are disappearing and the young people go to the city for their jobs and not a lot stay around,” Mr Rowbottom said.
At the beginning of 2020 the association managed to attract more players from coastal hub of Port Fairy, but apart from a few games in between restrictions the competition has mostly been on hold.
“We’re pretty certain that the majority of the players that we picked up will keep going, but there is some concern about next year,” he said
“It definitely won’t be the end, though — we’ll keep going.”
Small sports rely heavily on volunteers
Chief executive of VicSport, Lisa Hasker, said weathering the COVID-19 storm has been tougher for the smaller clubs.
“You’re a big sport, you have resources to lean on … but the small sports are run pretty much entirely by volunteers,” Ms Hasker said.
“There’s a lot of areas where it’s harder because everything falls back onto those volunteers.”
Ms Hasker said the variety these smaller niche sports provide enrichens the sporting landscape around the Victoria.
“We’re all different; we all like different sports,” Ms Hasker said.
“But it doesn’t suit everyone, so I think [variety] is vital.”