(Brian Waldron, the ‘chief rat’ who orchestrated the salary cap rort Photo courtesy of http://www.smh.com.au)
Like many Storm and Rugby League fans, I was shocked to hear that a Melbourne based sports radio program was interviewing former Richmond, St.Kilda, Melbourne Storm and Melbourne Rebels sports administrator, Brian Waldron. Why does the name ring a bell? Because it is the name of the disgraced Chief Executive Officer who was responsible for one of the biggest and most damaging sporting scandals in Australian Sporting history. Waldron, orchestrated the largest salary cap rort ever seen, which enabled the Melbourne Storm to keep key personnel, personnel they brought to the club as kids and developed into exceptional talent, which assisted them in being able to win two Premierships in 2007 and 2009 which were subsequently stripped and the records erased as part of penalties and punishments dished out by the then NRL administration under the leadership of David Gallop back in 2010.
After a forensic investigation commissioned by the former owners of the Melbourne Storm in News Limited (now known as News Corp) the outcome of the investigation proved what everyone was already thinking; that the blood was firmly on Waldron’s hands, how he mischievously mislead player managers and NRL officials. Waldron’s egotistical belief was he was left with no choice due to the NRL not wanting to see the Storm succeed because as he referred to it as ‘the northern markets” controlled the Game. It is Waldron’s word against Gallops and former NRL officials, who refute Waldron’s dire tribe.
Waldron believes he had come to an agreement with the ARL at the time who was charged with the responsibility of development of the game throughout the country. The supposed agreement was that Storm players would be paid a development fee to help promote the Storm and Rugby League in a non-traditional heartland to help win the hearts and minds of a new audience of a new market with Gallop giving Waldron the green light to do so. Gallop denies ever agreeing to such terms. The NRL auditors also said it was illegal and new contracts would have to be drawn up and lodged excluding these payments. This was the start of what would eventually lead to more cunning and crafty systematic cheating, which included setting up fake charity and event management companies which would provide players with additional funds that were negotiated with player managers and signed off on, yet these contracts never ever made it to NRL headquarters, instead, contracts excluding these additional payments were received. But I deviate from the issue.
(Labelled as Rugby League’s Darkest Hour Photo courtesy of http://www.foxsports.com.au)
5 years on, Waldron now believes he deserves the opportunity for redemption, both personally and for his family’s sake. He believes he has been remorseful. He believes he has apologised enough, but has the remorse and apology reached those that were adversely affected by Waldron’s deceitful and fraudulent behaviour and management. Did Waldron personally apologise to the players? To the coaches? The officials? The stakeholders? The fans and members? I think all parties would unanimously agree that they have not received the supposed apology that they solemnly deserve. And even if it did come, what does it achieve? The hurt, the pain and the suffering will not be erased and all will be forgiven. Waldron’s best course of action would have been to stay quiet and never return to the public spotlight in any form or capacity.
But the arrogance of the disgraced administrator was always going to ensure this would never be the case. Waldron hopes that everyone has moved on, enabling him to resume a career in sports administration. Waldron stated, “at the end of day the game of rugby league hopefully is better for what happened to Melbourne Storm as hard as it is on the Storm people. The players still have got the tattoos, I think they certainly believe they won the premierships and deservedly so, but the game of rugby league is a far better game with the independent commission and the way it’s structured and if there is some lessons out of this, well then sometimes people have got to suffer and rightly so”
For someone who says he remains very apologetic and remorseful for bringing Melbourne Storm to its knees and almost single handily destroyed any future Rugby League had of prospering in Victoria, one could be excused for not taking Waldron’s supposed regret and repentance as sincere. Let’s put it into perspective. Had Brian Waldron worked in any other industry, be it the private sector, public service, finance etc. Waldron would have not only been terminated from his post, he would have been charged with fraud and faced jail time with his card marked for life, never to work in whatever industry again.
(John Hartigan, David Gallop and Dr. Rob Moodie face the press conference where the NRL handed down the penalities for the Storm’s systematic salary cap rort Photo Courtesy of http://www.heraldsun.com.au)
Yet he believes that there has been enough water under the bridge to be given a second chance in sport? The hide of this corrupt individual. He betrayed the trust of the Melbourne Storm. The club, the coach, the players. Betrayed the trust of the National Rugby League, stakeholders, fans, members, the Storm’s owners, all for what? Success, via a win at all cost mentality? Which he now has the audacity to say that if he did not make the mistake of cheating, the strong culture that existed at the Storm would have ensured success anyway. If this was the case, then why cheat and cripple the organisation in the first place?
Waldron is a cheat. A liar. An unethical administrator who’s gift of the gab and salesmanship brought the game of Rugby League into disrepute and brought incredibly shame and humiliation on a football club that prided itself on its development programs, strong work ethic and instilled mantra of hard work, the foundation that Bellamy established when he arrived in late 2002. If it was not for the likes of strong individuals, strong leaders namely in Craig Bellamy, former CEO Ron Gauci and Cameron Smith, the Melbourne Storm may not have survived the events of 2010 that Waldron subjected the Victorian based franchise too.
Sponsors and commercial partners fled. Loyal and long-term members and fans who had barracked for the Purple Pride since the club’s inaugural inception back in 1998 walked away. So too did the fence sitters and interested on lookers who were just starting to warm to the game of Rugby League in the southern capital. They were lost due to the notion of not wanting to support a club that had become known as ‘cheats’. The Storm was damaged goods. The name and brand tarnished. The harm and destruction caused by Waldron was irreparable. Some other NRL clubs, especially those in the saturated Sydney market may have had to shut up shop. But not the Storm. Giving up was never an option.
12 months on, Melbourne fought back. They shed players, names such as Inglis, Hoffman, Finch, Lima, Tolman, Johnson left the side willingly or not to help get the Storm back on a level playing field with the rest of the competition. Bargain basement buys in Norrie, Woolnough, Thompson, Lowrie et al….were brought in to fill the gaps. Under the guidance and leadership of a Coach who his players would bleed for, the Storm finished minor premiers. Commercially, Gauci and his new administration managed to coerce Crown Resorts to sponsor the Storm. It wouldn’t be long until Crown’s gamble would be rewarded with Melbourne finishing as Minor Premiers in 2011 and eventually Premiers in 2012.
Schermerhorn (2010) explains that authentic leadership “involves both owning one’s personal experiences and acting in accordance with one’s true self. Although no one is perfectly authentic, authenticity is something to strive for”. Positive self-efficacy, possessing optimism, hope and having resilience. These are vital traits for a leader to portray, to positively influence their followers.” (p.332, Organizational Behaviour. Eleventh Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)
These traits were evident when the sensational events of 2010 hit Melbourne. Bellamy remained strong. Strong in the face of adversity, strong for his players. Bellamy knew that if he showed weakness, the entire operation and everything he had worked so hard for, would all come crumbling down. It was his leadership that kept the Storm together. Such strength as his high emotional intelligence for those around him, at the forefront was the welfare and well-being of his players along with his strong cohesiveness. The salary cap scandal would complete the leadership journey for Bellamy. For some coaches in sport, their biggest challenges are assembling a roster to become competitive. For others, it is about winning competitions. For Bellamy, his greatest leadership triumph would be to re-build the Storm from the bottom up.
Coach Craig Bellamy was asked what was so special about the Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club. He replied saying “purple is a nice colour, but that doesn’t make a club. The emblem is a nice emblem, but that doesn’t make a club. The reason it’s a special club, it’s because of the people in the club” and how true those words are 5 years on. The Storm can thank Brian Waldron for one thing. That being understanding what ‘resilience’ is; to withstand, to endure, to stick together to survive any ‘Storm’ that may come their way.
(If not for strong leadership in Craig Bellamy, the Storm may not of survived the events of 2010 Photo Courtesy of http://www.couriermail.com.au)