Even slippery politicians deserve a sporting chance

This article first appeared on The Punch.

Liam Jurrah (Photo: Jason South)

Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper have allegedly made a fair few errors in their life. But perhaps their most costly mistake was choosing the wrong profession.

Politics is an unforgiving game. Your each and every move is scrutinised by the public, making it imperative for those in power to behave appropriately at all times. A single slip-up, with or without context, can erupt into a full-scale Parliamentary inquiry.

Years ago I allegedly spotted the alleged Federal Treasurer Peter Costello allegedly jay-walking across an alleged road. At the time I considered sending off my candid photograph to the papers, just for a laugh. But I stopped myself in my tracks; could a photo as harmless as that be dangerous to the politician’s long-term reputation?

The accusations made against Thomson and Slipper are obviously a little more severe. Their alleged misdeeds are not just petty breaches of road laws; rather they face accusations of serious offences such as sexual harassment and misuse of union funds.

However, just like Costello and every politician, they have the most hated job in Australia. It can be a devastating fall of grace from the high rungs of Australian politics. Working your way back up can be a long, arduous journey.

It’s a different story in the sporting arena. On Saturday, Melbourne Demons star Liam Jurrah returned to the football field for the first time since his infamous visit to the Northern Territory. In March, Jurrah was accused of attacking his cousin with a machete during a brawl in the Northern Territory. The football community was stunned; how could the mild-mannered Jurrah have done something as atrocious as this?

It’s worth noting there are complex circumstances surrounding the Jurrah incident that most of us will struggle to comprehend. Nevertheless, it’s common sense that you don’t hit another man with a machete. If Jurrah is guilty, he has to pay the price.

Incidentally, Jurrah’s return to the Melbourne team sheet came hours after receiving four more charges relating to this attack. Despite this, the popular footballer’s comeback was lauded by football fans and the AFL alike, who couldn’t wait to see the Walpiri Wizard on the stage again.

Craig Thompson (self-illustrated)

Nick D’Arcy is a similar case study. In 2008 the Australian championship swimmer was charged with assault. Two years later he received a positive result in an out-of-competition doping test. Recently, however, D’Arcy has begun to reclaim his mantle as the poster boy for Australian swimming. It appears that time – and his impressive swimming performances – is healing the wounds of bad behaviour. Every time the swimmer pulls off a commendable performance, the commentators speak of redemption and forgiveness.

Other names – such as Andrew Krakouer, Gary Ablett Snr – spring to mind. Their dark pasts have seemingly been forgotten because of their sporting talent.

For the sake of the game, it is apparent that the public desires Jurrah’s zero-to-hero story to have a happy ending.

After growing up in a remote indigenous community in Central Australia, Jurrah was in 2008 invited by Collingwood to play for their reserves. When he was drafted by Melbourne a year later, Jurrah could barely speak a word of English. Within a year he had become the most exciting player in the AFL, kicking goals from miraculous angles and bringing unexpected joy to an otherwise dismal team.

Barring the latest chapter, Jurrah’s story encapsulates some classic Australia narratives – an underdog overcoming the odds, an Aboriginal fighting for recognition in a white man’s game, a rural man bringing joy to his home community. It would thus be mutually beneficial for supporters of all teams if Jurrah were innocent.

Mind you, it also should be in the public’s interest that Thomson and Slipper be deemed innocent.

Surely we as the public should be hoping that Thomson and Slipper – members of one of this nation’s most powerful bodies – have been wrongly accused. Both hold important positions of power and it would be a real shame if our national representatives were abusing that privilege.

After all, politics is not supposed to be a sport; surely the stability of our government is something everybody values, not just those of one team.

It’s clear that not everybody agrees with this. For the last six months, it has been evident that some want Thomson and Slipper to be dealt with harshly because it would give the Coalition a political advantage.

If Thomson and Slipper are indeed guilty of their misdoings, then justice should be served appropriately. They deserve no concessions because of their high rank. But if these same men have committed no crime, they deserve to walk back into their respective political camps with the same fanfare as a footballer.