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NRL and Peter V’Landys issue final warning to players breaking coronavirus bubble laws with ‘competition at stake’

The NRL’s coronavirus biosecurity bubble has been burst nine times in just four days, forcing the code’s bosses to offer a stern and final warning to misbehaving players and coaches.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’Landys said harsher punishments were on the way for those breaking the rules, while warning the league’s arrangement with the Queensland Government “could be withdrawn any day”.

“We will increase financial penalties to act as a deterrent because these people are being selfish,” V’Landys said.

“It’s concerning because the whole competition is at stake.”

Acting NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said the league would take “the strongest action possible” against any offending member of the bubble.

Those found to be breaking the rules are placed into lockdown for 14 days and could face fines.

The currently banished includes two Newcastle Knights players under investigation, Bronco Tevita Pangai Jr, who visited a barbershop, Broncos coach Anthony Seibold and three Broncos officials, including club great Alfie Langer.

Souths coach Wayne Bennett and Paul Vaughan were also issued $20,000 and $10,000 fines respectively for dining out at a restaurant.

Bennett is on the Project Apollo board, which created the biosecurity protocols.

South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett walks through the red and yellow seats at Suncorp Stadium.
Wayne Bennett was fined $20,000 for his bubble breach.(AAP: Darren England)

“It’s not ideal to lose your coach for a couple of weeks but he [Bennett] knows now that what he did was wrong,” Souths player Campbell Graham said.

“Everyone is in the same boat and the rules are clear now, but it does get a bit confusing with the chopping and changing of rules.”

The rules were somewhat relaxed in June, but more strict restrictions were reinstated in July when cases rose in the eastern states.

Despite some alleged confusion, the NRL insists the majority are doing the right thing.

Queensland has been the life-raft for the NRL during the pandemic. The Queensland Government has hosted the Melbourne Storm for months, and has given players exemptions to travel interstate.

But this recent spate of errors threatens to derail that agreement.

“I’m satisfied that management is dealing with this very, very seriously — I am not satisfied that the players understand the seriousness,” Dr Jeanette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, said on Monday.

Rugby League isn’t forgetting that goodwill is strictly conditional.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the breaches were “incredibly frustrating because Queenslanders are doing the right thing and this puts at risk all that great work”.

There are still seven rounds to go before finals in this irregular season.

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Richmond AFL players Nick Vlastuin and Jayden Short apologise to Mabior Chol for ‘unacceptable behaviour’

The Richmond Football Club says the behaviour of two of its players towards a teammate during post-match celebrations was “unacceptable”, and not in line with club or community expectations.

Vision emerged following the Tigers’ victory over Brisbane in Carrara on Tuesday night of Nick Vlastuin grabbing at the genitals and backside of teammate Mabior Chol during the club song.

Chol appeared irritated by the behaviour and swatted his teammate’s hand away.

Another video appeared to show Jayden Short grabbing Chol’s genitals following the Tigers’ match against the Bulldogs last week in Carrara.

Both men said they had since apologised to Chol for their behaviour.

“It was a stupid action and I am deeply embarrassed,” Vlastuin said in a Richmond statement.

Short said he and Vlastuin had not set an appropriate example to Tigers supporters.

“It was unacceptable behaviour and a poor example,” Short said.

A Richmond Tigers AFL player runs with the ball in two hands during a match against North Melbourne.
Mabior Chol said he had no issue with his Richmond teammates.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Chol said he was not offended by the behaviour of his teammates.

“I have no issue whatsoever with those players, or any of my teammates, but understand that is not the sort of example we should be setting,” Chol said.

“The entire playing group have made clear this behaviour will cease,” Richmond said in the statement.

Earlier on Friday, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick ended his media conference early following questions about the incidents from Network Ten reporter Hugh Riminton.

Hardwick denied having knowledge of the incidents referred to by Riminton.

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NBL confirms 12 Melbourne United players have coronavirus

Twelve NBL players from Melbourne United have now tested positive to COVID-19.

It comes after the club suspended training last week.

United and South East Melbourne Phoenix players and staff have been in isolation and will remain that way amid Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown.

Phoenix players also undergoing testing.

The news follows the league last week confirming United players Mitch McCarron and Jo Lual-Acui had tested positive to COVID-19.

“Our primary concern is the health and welfare of our players, staff and their families,” NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said in a statement.

“This is a challenging time for everyone concerned and we are working closely with the clubs and the Australian Basketball Players’ Association to provide support for all those affected.

“We are also working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services to manage the outbreak and limit any risk to the wider community.”

There will be no further group training sessions for United or Phoenix until further notice.

The 2020/21 NBL season is scheduled to tip off in December.

Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster in Victoria on Sunday, and announced Melbourne would move into stage four restrictions from Sunday evening.

Mr Andrews said 671 new coronavirus cases had been detected since Saturday, with 6,322 infections now active in the state.

Seven people have died from coronavirus in Victoria in the past 24 hours, taking the state’s death toll to 123.


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Nick Kyrgios says he won’t play at the US Open over COVID-19 fears, warns players not to be selfish

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has ruled out playing in this year’s US Open, saying he is making his decision for “my Aussies”, and for the people who have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He becomes the second high-profile Australian tennis player to announce he will be staying away from the New York-based tournament, following this week’s statement by women’s world number one Ash Barty.

The tournament is scheduled to start on August 31 — it will be held at its usual home in Flushing Meadows, Queens but will be played without fans to limit the risk of spreading of the virus.

Kyrgios posted a video on Sunday, where he read from a statement.

“I will not be playing this year at the US Open,” he said.

“It hurts me at my core not to be out there, competing in one of the sport’s greatest arenas, Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s my decision.”

A tennis player stands with his head down and his fist in front of his face after losing a point.
Nick Kyrgios says he is sitting out the US Open for Australians, and for the Americans who have died from COVID-19.(AP: Adam Hunger)

Uncertainty remains around the tournament that is usually the last major of the year.

The tennis world has been largely shut down for months in response to the pandemic, and players have expressed concerns over safety.

While tournaments are just about to restart, there have been a number of exhibition events held — the most notorious being the ADRIA Cup, a tournament organised by world number one Novak Djokovic, held in a number of countries, but which featured poor social distancing.

Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric later tested positive. Kyrgios described the decision to go ahead with the exhibition as “boneheaded”, saying people had to stick to the protocols.

Kyrgios has also been drawn into online exchanges with Coric and former world number one Boris Becker over their approach to the virus.

“Dear tennis, let’s take a breath here and remember what’s important, which is health and safety as a community,” he said in the video.

The Canberra native said he had no problem with the USTA putting on the US Open, and that if players wanted to go, that was up to them.

“So long as everyone acts appropriately, and acts safely,” he said.

“No-one wants people to keep their jobs more than me. I’m speaking for the guy who works in the restaurant, the cleaners, the locker room attendants.

“These are the people that need their jobs back the most and fair play to them.”

Kyrgios called on players to act in each other’s best interests and work together.

“That’s just so selfish. Think of all the other people for once.

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Melbourne United NBL players Mitch McCarron and Jo Lual-Acui return positive coronavirus tests

Melbourne United NBL players Mitch McCarron and Jo Lual-Acui have tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the club to suspend training indefinitely.

Training for Victoria’s other NBL club, South East Melbourne Phoenix, has also been suspended.

McCarron and Lual-Acui were tested and isolated as soon as they started displaying symptoms.

All United players and staff who attended training on, or after, July 22 will be tested for coronavirus.

Even if the players and staff return a negative test, they will still need to self-isolate for 14 days.

United had been training at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in the inner-city suburb of Albert Park.

The news came on a day when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the state had recorded 295 new coronavirus cases and nine deaths.

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said the league was providing support to the two Melbourne clubs and affected players.

“Our concern is for players and staff and ensuring that we follow the right protocols to minimise any further risk to the wider community,” he said in a statement.

“Given the current situation in Melbourne, we do not want to take any risks and we will continue to work with the relevant health authorities to ensure all protocols are followed.”

McCarron, a shooting guard, has played for United since 2018 after a stint with Cairns Taipans.

Towering centre Lual-Acui joined United last year.


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Major League Baseball postpones two games in new season as Miami Marlins players test positive to COVID-19

Just four days after beginning a truncated, coronavirus-delayed season, Major League Baseball (MLB) has run into a serious obstacle with the postponement of two scheduled games due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Miami Marlins players.

According to an ESPN report, at least 13 Marlins staff (11 players and two coaches) have tested positive in recent days, leading to games between the Marlins and Phillies being postponed.

The postponement of the games in Philadelphia and Miami was a potentially ominous development for MLB and other major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada hoping to forge ahead during the pandemic.

While it was unclear whether the MLB season has been placed in jeopardy, some public health experts urged the suspension of play.

“They need to suspend games, do aggressive contact tracing, and see how bad this outbreak is,” Dr Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, wrote on Twitter.


MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told the MLB Network the health of the players and their families was the league’s “first concern.”

“We’re doing some additional testing, if the testing results are acceptable, the Marlins will resume play in Baltimore on Wednesday against the Orioles.”

Phillies players have also been tested, and the results were expected to be released on Tuesday (US time).

Manfred said he did not put the postponements and positive tests in the “nightmare” category.

“We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play,” he said.

The Commissioner was asked if there was a critical mass of positives within the league or a team where he would feel it was necessary to shut down part or all of the schedule.

“There is certainly both [breaking points within a team and the league],” he said.

“I think that a team losing a number of players that rendered them completely non-competitive would be an issue we would have to address, we would have to think about making a change.

“Whether that was shutting down part of the season, all of the season, that would depend on circumstances.”

Philadelphia Phillies home ground Citizens Bank Park
The Phillies were supposed to host the New York Yankees on Monday, but the game was postponed while the team awaited test results.(AP: Chris Szagola)

The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, with worrisome infection rates in numerous states, including the Marlins’ home state of Florida.

US news outlets reported that the Marlins initially learned three of their players, including a starting pitcher, had tested positive for the virus before the last game against Philadelphia, but decided to go ahead with the game after a group text involving players.


“We made the decision that we’re going to continue to do this and we’re going to continue to be responsible and just play the game as hard as we can,” Marlins starting shortstop Miguel Rojas told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“[Not playing] was never the mentality. We knew that this would happen at some point.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly described Rojas as the “unofficial team captain”.

“He’s always texting the group and getting the feelings of the group. So when we’re dealing with situations or things, that’s usually who we’re working through,” Mattingly said.

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Australian Rugby League boss Peter V’landys ‘ashamed’ by racism targeted at Indigenous players

The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on racism around the world, but Indigenous NRL players were taking action of their own months before worldwide protests erupted.

Leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players met with the NRL late last year to raise concerns about racism and how to improve the relationship with the country’s first peoples.

“I was ashamed of myself when I left that meeting,” ARLC chair Peter V’landys said.

“I was disappointed that I was unaware of their situation, the historical issues over our time and some of the things that they go through.

“We made a lot of mistakes with our Indigenous communities. We need to acknowledge those mistakes, and we don’t want to make the same mistakes again.”

His stark admission came at the launch of the annual Indigenous round, which kicks off this week.

“Part of this [Indigenous round] is to educate people that racism should be eradicated, it should not occur in rugby league or any part of society.”

V’landys says he wants the annual event to be about more than clubs wearing a commemorative jersey.

“From what I heard from those players, I hope this round educates others and shows the hurt that can happen when you don’t understand.”

Players from both Parramatta and Penrith kneel in a circle on the field, arm in arm
Parramatta and Penrith players take a knee following their round five game.(AAP: Brendan Thorne)

So what has been done since?

An advisory body has been set up to better consult with players and implement changes. The theme of this year’s round is ‘Pass Back. Move Forward’ to better understand and build a brighter future.

The NRL has also vowed to support players in speaking out against injustice and scrutiny.

“They are using their profile to eradicate racism and inequality, when there was a lot of media attention on Latrell Mitchell,” V’landys said.

“I so admired the way they [Indigenous players] stuck with him and looked after him.”

The code also wants to increase Indigenous participation rates and pathways as well as for Pacific Islander and New Zealanders.

Players in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Indigenous players like the Eels’ Blake Ferguson and Storm’s Josh Addo-Carr were the driving force to show solidarity with the protests and to raise awareness about Aboriginal deaths in custody, taking a knee in round five last month.

Souths’ five-eighth Cody Walker is another who has been vocal in his push to expose and eradicate racism in the game, and says the burden can not be carried entirely by Indigenous people.

“Supporting these movements is the way forward, because in reality we are in the minority and if we get the majority speaking up about these things that’s the conversation starters we are looking for,” Walker said.

Cody Walker crawls along the ground after scoring a try to pay tribute to Greg Inglis and his goanna celebration.
Cody Walker celebrates a try with the goanna crawl, made famous by Greg Inglis.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

Walker has been one of the biggest advocates for change, refusing to sing the national anthem last Indigenous round.

Souths’ Dane Gagai said backing Black Lives Matter was the right thing to do.

“It’s pretty alarming to see the statistics — it wasn’t just the Indigenous guys, everyone is supportive of it to start looking at moving forward as a nation,” Gagai said.

Gagai is supportive of the NRL’s acknowledgement of the need for change.

“I still think there’s some way to go but there’s been a lot of steps made in the right direction.”

Souths doing work off the field

Indigenous culture has been integral to the Rabbitohs identity for more than a century and the club prides itself on its work off the field.

It runs Souths Cares, which manages several initiatives to provide Indigenous employment, education, health and social services.

“We run the Deadly Youth program for 10-to 17-year-olds that have come to the attention of the police. We believe getting in earlier is a lot better than later on,” Alisha Parker-Elrez, general manager of Souths Care, said.

“The school-to-work program, which all of the other clubs have picked up, [is about] mentoring and supporting year 10-12 students to get their HSC, with 96 per cent going onto further their education or employment.”

A number of Indigenous players pose for a photo in their jerseys. Two painted Indigenous man with didgeridoos are with them
South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Indigenous players are involved in a number of community projects.(Souths Cares)

The players volunteer their time to be heavily involved in the program.

“The boys are fantastic, they believe in what they do and want to help their own people. When they come here and sign a contract to play for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, this is a part of it.”

Each club is observing the Indigenous Round in different ways.

The Newcastle Knights are supporting the Cultural Choice Association, working to prevent Indigenous youth suicide.

It’s an issue close to hooker Connor Watson’s heart, after he lost his cousin Parker to suicide.

“Anyone who read the statistic about it would be quite shocked and taken away — it shouldn’t be happening as much as it is and more needs to be done about it,” Watson said.

The Rabbitohs of the Gadigal people start the Indigenous round on Thursday, taking on the Dragons of the Dharawal and Yuin nations.

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Shane Tuck’s father Michael urges men to talk about their mental health after former Richmond player’s death

Shane Tuck’s father Michael Tuck has spoken about his son’s death and the “issues” he faced throughout his life.

In an interview with the Herald Sun, Michael Tuck said his son “kept it all in”, and urged others to speak up and share their mental health problems.

“He was a big, strong kid and he just had a few issues and he couldn’t get rid of them and that was the only way out,” Mr Tuck said.

“[Shane] was bit like that — he kept it all in because he was a tough, strong man.

“It’s not a weakness, it’s just to express yourself with honesty and don’t try to cover up things.

“He didn’t mean anything by it, he just couldn’t admit he had a real bad problem.”

Shane Tuck’s death at 38 years old came as a shock to former teammates and football fans across the country.

He belonged to a famous AFL family, with his father Michael a legend of the Hawthorn Football Club, with whom he won seven premierships, including four as captain.

His brother Travis also played for the Hawks, and he was a cousin of Geelong superstar Gary Ablett Junior and nephew to Cats great Gary Ablett Senior.

Former teammate Jack Riewoldt said the entire Richmond squad — currently together in a hub in Queensland — was banding together to deal with the grief.

“There’s a handful of us that played with Tucky and admired him and loved him as a mate and as a player, but it’s impacted our staff as well,” Riewoldt told Fox Footy’s AFL 360 on Tuesday night.

“Our medical staff spent a lot of time with Tucky. Any footballer can attest that the hub of an AFL club is the medical room, and he was so funny and just always spent time in there.

“Guys used to love winding him up, but he was just a character.

“It’s been a day of phone calls and reminiscing. I’ve been chatting a lot of ex-teammates just about how they’re dealing with it.

“A lot of my ex-teammates are involved in other football clubs and we’re all sort of spread around Australia.

“But just to share a memory and a moment and a phone call and even a story, just about how much we loved Tucky — it’s part of the grieving process that we’re all going through at the moment.”

A Richmond AFL player tries to kick the ball with left foot with a Tigers teammate and Port Adelaide opponent next to him.
Shane Tuck played 173 games for Richmond between 2004 and 2013.(AAP: Joe Castro)

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AFL players frustrated by holding-the-ball decisions as league admits to umpiring errors

Adelaide forward Taylor Walker says tough new holding-the-ball interpretations have changed the way AFL players approach contests in recent weeks.

A mid-season league directive led umpires to tighten the adjudication of the rule and subsequent inconsistencies have frustrated players, coaches and fans alike.

It followed scathing criticism from Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson last month about the congested state of the game and the perceived failure of umpires to reward tacklers.

The debate has raged in recent weeks and was reignited on Monday night after a series of contentious holding-the-ball decisions during St Kilda’s 23-point win over Adelaide.

This afternoon, the AFL conceded there were multiple cases of “missed or unwarranted free kicks” during last night’s match at Adelaide.

“I actually do feel a little bit for the umpires at the moment with the holding-the-ball issue,” former Crows captain Walker said.

“It’s been raised in the industry and now I feel it’s making it tougher and tougher for our umpires to adjudicate the game.”

Walker said players were now accepting being second to the ball rather than trying to win it, because of the way holding the ball is being adjudicated.

“You can clearly see that blokes are now thinking twice about, ‘Do I get the ball and then get tackled or do I let someone else get it and I’ll tackle them?'” he said.

Earlier this season, the AFL sent a memo to clubs emphasising the specifics of the holding-the-ball rule.

The memo read: “Where a player is in possession of the football and has not had prior opportunity, a field umpire shall award a free kick if the player is able to, but does not, make a genuine attempt to correctly dispose of the football when legally tackled.”

AFL football operations general manager Steve Hocking said errors had been made during the Crows-Saints clash.

“We acknowledge there were decisions in [Monday] night’s game that were either missed or unwarranted free kicks and we will continue to work towards ensuring stronger consistency in decision making, particularly with regards to holding-the-ball decisions,” he said.


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Photo of Gary Ablett and his son Levi sums up 2020 as our window into players’ lives grows larger, for better and worse

COVID-19 willing, this AFL season still has three tumultuous and highly unpredictable months to run. But I suspect it has already produced its most powerful and symbolic image.

It is not the stereotypical back page picture of a player rising over a pack to take a soaring mark or an iconic act such as Nicky Winmar’s defiant “black and proud” gesture.

The photograph was not even taken by a professional photographer but shared on Instagram by a family that is both intensely proud and under great emotional stress.

The image that will symbolise this strange disrupted season is that of Geelong champion Gary Ablett Jr holding his son in his arms at the airport at the weekend after his premature return from the team’s Perth hub.

It is a heart-warming photo although, sadly, it is the backstory that lifts it from the pages of the Ablett family album to the centre of our current sporting consciousness.

Eighteen month-old Levi Ablett suffers a rare degenerative disease, while his mother, Jordan, is caring for her own mother who has cancer. This prompted the 36-year-old Geelong star to leave quarantine in Perth and travel home to his family.

Gary Ablett holds his son and smiles at the camera
Gary Ablett has opened up recently about his son’s medical condition.(Instagram: Gary Ablett)

Under such circumstances, the Ablett’s did what most parents would do. But his decision was made at a time when we are expecting — even demanding — that athletes do much more than we would normally consider reasonable.

In Victoria, particularly, the latest lockdown caused by the second wave of COVID-19 and now highlighted by the sensible imposition of the mandatory wearing of masks in public has put yet more emphasis on sport as a vital distraction.

The enormous recent viewing figures for AFL games demonstrate how sport is providing comfort; and also that no-one wants to go through another lockdown without our regular fix of live games as we did the first time.

Consequently, athletes have taken — or been lumped with — the status of essential workers. Like Bob Hope entertaining the US troops in Korea, they are our distraction, our joy, our relief. Although for those sent to hubs, their personal tours of duty are much longer than Hope’s fly-in fly-out performances.

As you will be quickly reminded upon lauding (now somewhat less) well-paid athletes for leaving home to play sport, the sacrifices of most sports stars are relatively insignificant compared with the troubles of those who have lost livelihoods or even loved ones during the pandemic.

This is why the photo of Gary Ablett hugging Levi to his chest is both powerful and significant. It is a timely reminder that our circumstances, even those of the greatest and wealthiest athletes, are all different even as our priorities remain much the same.

The importance of providing context about the decisions of athletes who might need to abandon their teams temporarily has changed the media reporting dynamic somewhat.

A Geelong Cats AFL player handballs against the Gold Coast Suns.
This is widely expected to be Ablett’s last AFL season, so there are questions as to whether he will play again.(AAP: Dylan Burns)

In some situations, a footy star or a golf champion’s off-field life, even his or her persona and life choices, are no longer merely the substance of gossip-page tittle-tattle or even more nuanced sports page profiles intended to provide perspective of “the real person”.

Factors leading to a player’s withdrawal from a game — and now a hub — that might normally be covered by the catch-all phrase “personal reasons” are being revealed in detail, even publicised, to ensure the appropriate understanding is extended to a player who has had to make that decision.

We would not normally have needed to know that Richmond’s star Bachar Houli’s mother Yemama had contracted COVID-19 if it was another condition at another time. But the story Houli generously shared gave context to his decision not to join his teammates in Queensland.

But while the revelation of circumstances such as family illnesses temper our rush to judgement on athletes unable to compete, the behavioural aspect of some athletes is being judged even more harshly.

At another time Novak Djokovic’s unorthodox views on vaccination might have been merely a matter of personal opinion, assuming he did not use his status to dissuade others from taking the appropriate precautions.

In a pandemic, Djokovic’s ignorance informed the decision to run a tennis tournament that left several star players and others infected by, or exposed to, COVID-19 at a time when his game was desperately trying to revive major events and restore incomes.

Novak Djokovic can be seen among a large number of young volunteers, waving on court
The inner workings of Novak Djokovic’s personal life painted a different picture of the tennis star.(AP: Darko Vojinovic)

At the other end of the spectrum, an occasionally hysterical atmosphere has inflamed our view of athletes who commit what might once have been considered minor infractions — or no infraction at all.

This was symbolised by the case of Essendon’s Conor McKenna, who was vilified for returning what proved to be a false positive test that caused an AFL game to be postponed. Inevitably a relatively minor breach of quarantine brought down the weight of the football world upon the Irishman.

At this extreme, COVID-19 sport has only accentuated the modern trend to dehumanise and vilify athletes in professional sports where the barriers between the players and the media are often heavily fortified and the capacity for mutual empathy diminished.

Then there is a picture of Gary Ablett at the airport clutching his son in a loving embrace; an image that is both incredibly moving and universally relatable.

A powerful reminder that this season, more than any other, footballers are just people doing their best to look after their families while being held responsible for providing our entertainment and also ensuring the ongoing prosperity of their sports.

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