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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

South Fremantle penalty did not fit the crime

The WA Football Commission did not act some years ago when a WAFL club paid its players an amount estimated by insiders at more than double the official salary cap.

The WAFC did not act a decade or so ago when its senior football manager revealed – on the public record – his belief that half the WAFL clubs were rorting the salary cap.

The WAFC did not act in 2014 when a spreadsheet of official match payments accidentally sent to every club revealed numerous players being paid significantly less than what they privately said they were getting.

The WAFC did not act – at the time - when premiership-bound Subiaco used a (legal) yoyo system to delist and relist 10-point players to avoid busting the player points cap.

The WAFC did act – by handing over a substantial cheque - when West Perth breached their WAFL licence by going into administration in 2018.

The WAFC took forever to act a few years ago when Peel were sprung paying a player outside the normal channels.

Now the WAFC has acted after South Fremantle breached the 2021 salary cap.

Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the WAFC has taken eight premiership points off the Bulldogs – two wins but effectively the season if they can’t finish above mid-table by manufacturing at least 10 wins in their other 16 matches.

The harshest penalty in the WAFL’s 138-year history has just been delivered for a crime that is serious but hardly the worst in recent times let alone more than a century.

Yes, South Fremantle busted the salary cap and deserved a stiff penalty for their sloppy management.

It is reasonable to assume that they went $10,525 over the $200,000 limit because that seemingly-arbitrary figure is the amount that their cap has been reduced from this year’s $245,000.

Part of that was to help a player whose neck was broken in a match and was not able to work let alone play football.

The club’s argument that this assistance fell outside the defined salary cap payments appeared reasonable but was rejected by the WAFC.

But eight premiership points?

This is a penalty that affects the integrity of the competition by providing an opportunity for an undeserving team to play finals. It could ruin a club’s entire season.

Will South Fremantle players want to remain all year? Sponsors? The coach or his assistants?

Not only is this a penalty that does not fit the crime but it sends a very clear message to other clubs that little is to be gained by operating by the rules.

If a club is savaged for making a serious but not wilful error, what will stop them reverting to the recent practice of paying players or providing them with benefits outside the system?

Cheating, in other words.

The other element that makes this penalty unusual is that South Fremantle may have been punished for their strong financial position.

While West Perth got a handout for going broke, South’s robust operations – which led to a $119,000 profit last year, $873,000 in cash holdings and $3.5million in assets – meant a financial penalty would have hurt them less than an on-field sanction.

South Fremantle will clearly wear the $25,000 fine more comfortably than the loss of eight premiership points.

Two questions rise from the South Fremantle breach – did the penalty fit the crime and would the other clubs have been treated equally in the same circumstances?

The second is a hypothetical and therefore unanswerable, but the first is a resounding no.



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