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Boozing in Bali

November spelled the end of matriculation exams for high school leavers across Australia, and with it, the cultural rite of passage that marks the most significant youth event in the national calendar; ‘Schoolies’. The majority of ‘Schoolies’ typically venture to the Gold Coast or a select number of other Queensland destinations to celebrate their transition into the real world, where state, local Government authorities, and a volunteer organisations do a wonderful job in ensuring the safety of our youth. While others celebrate within their home state, other overseas destinations are becoming more popular.  Bali for example has been gaining popularity amongst high school graduates in recent years, with its affordability and close proximity to Australia having strong appeal. However, last month concerns around public safety and alcohol consumption at the schoolies hot spot was highlighted by one young Australian’s misadventure.

As Fairfax reported, 17-year-old Jasmine Baker was at Bounty nightclub in Kuta, drinking with friends on a Friday night when she began to suffer effects of what is suspected to be methanol poisoning. She was flown to a Darwin hospital the next morning, and while she was well enough to return home to the Central Coast after undergoing observation, others have not been so lucky. Methanol poisoning can result in blindness, brain damage and even death, as the fatality of Perth-based teenager Liam Davies showed earlier in the year. Davies was one of six Australians who were subject to methanol poisoning from consuming alcohol in Indonesia between 2011 and 2013.

Home-brewing spirits increases the amount of methanol in the spirit to a dangerous level, and taste-wise, the substance is undetectable. This is a significant concern for tourists to Indonesia who visit bars and clubs that might be trying to cut costs by home-brewing, and even substituting liquor contained in commercially-distilled, labelled bottles with their own potent, cheaper mix. The safest approach is to drink only from sealed bottles or cans in Indonesia, or better yet, not to drink at all if you’re under age! (The legal drinking age in Indonesia is 21).

Dugan Ditched

The recent sacking of NRL Canberra Raiders player Josh Dugan has highlighted the ever-expanding role that social media can play in exposing high profile people to widespread public criticism. In what ‘The Courier Mail’ reported as a reaction to followers’ inappropriate and nasty comments, 22-year-old Dugan posted “abusive content” on several social media sites. News of this was quickly spread through mainstream media online coverage, and while Dugan has since apologised for his “bad words”, he pointed out that he is only human and is a “normal person like anyone else”. Perhaps Dugan should have been more mindful of the fact that as a professional sportsperson, on the social media sites he has a myriad of followers, supporters and sponsors who read his posted “expletive-laden...rants”. Furthermore, having been in the middle of negotiations for a three-year contract with the Brisbane Broncos, Dugan was already under their spotlight due to a “list of indiscretions” including a previous Instagram “outburst” three weeks prior that caused the Canberra Raiders to “tear up his contract”, according to the Sunday Telegraph. The Sunday Telegraph reported that Dugan has also lost his other prospective suitor, the St George Illawara Dragons, since the news of the “vile comments” went viral. The 22-year-old fullback is due to meet with NRL boss Dave Smith to discuss whether he has any chance of a comeback this year. The case serves to raise awareness of the risks and reach of content posted on social media that can be spread to thousands of followers and potential employers with just a ‘tap’ of a smartphone.  Raiders Captain Dave Shillington told the Daily Telegraph that footballers “have a responsibility to behave” themselves and “cop the criticism”, and suggested that Dugan should “get help”.

With easy access to the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram sites, based on his recent behaviour Dugan may be viewed as a liability to any NRL club that takes him on. The outcome of the meeting with Smith is yet to be determined, but it is certain, according to The Courier Mail, that the Broncos will continue to search for a new ‘star player.’

Homework Woes

The failure of four members of the Australian cricket team to do homework set for them by the Australian Coach led to their suspension before the third Test in India, and sparked public outrage and jokes at the expense of the team on the internet. Having lost the first two test matches in Mohali, according to ABC News, Coach Mickey Arthur asked players including James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Johnson and Vice-Captain Shane Watson to prepare a 3-point presentation on what they could “mentally and technically” bring to the team to get through the remaining Test matches. After the quartet failed to do so, Arthur cited a “breach of team discipline” as the reason for making the players unavailable for selection for the upcoming Test. The ABC reported that Shane Watson then left the tour most likely as a result of “injured pride”, as well as to be with his wife who was due to give birth, and was said to be contemplating his future in cricket. Sports bloggers and other sportspeople expressed outrage online at the homework debacle. Former England skipper, Michael Vaughan tweeted an image of Bill Gates next to a screen that reads “Why I should be the Australian Cricket Team’s PowerPoint Coach.” According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a number of media outlets are poking fun at the notion of standing down four players over a homework task in a time where the skills of the team are vital, and have questioned the relevance of written homework tasks in a sport setting. One source suggested that Arthur’s actions have taken the Australian team from “on-field embarrassment to off-field crisis”; another quoted Shane Warne tweeting that it is beyond the scope of the role for a coach to be involved with selecting players, and the Captain should have had the final say. Former domestic and Australian cricketer Brett Geeves reported to the ABC that he too was chastised for not completing homework when he was playing in what was “only a week opener” for Tasmania, and it had a detrimental effect on his morale as well as that of remaining teammates.

However, former cricketer Geoff Lawson told the ABC that it is Arthur’s job to prepare his team for winning, and as they were not, he would have been under “tremendous pressure” to “get the job done”. Captain Michael Clarke told the Sydney Morning Herald that he “completely endorsed” the coach’s decision, stating that players failing to reach necessary standards set for them, whatever they were, is “unacceptable”.

As professional sportsmen, the four suspended cricketers have been criticised for not taking seriously a task that was set as part of their employment. While an “aggrieved” Watson returned to India for the fourth and final Test, sports blog ‘The Roar’ has revealed that after the cricket team’s “disastrous tour of India”, the National Selection Panel is set for a “ruthless clean-out”. The Panel will reportedly become a three-person panel again, with Coach and Captain to be “demoted”.

Lightning Run

A fun-run participant in St. Lucia, Brisbane has tragically died in hospital from severe head injuries sustained when he was struck by falling tree branch. Canadian tourist Joe Kelly, 58, was participating in the Twilight Running Festival when a thunderstorm hit and a tree branch cracked and fell along Sir Fred Schonell Drive at approximately 6.30pm on the event day.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he was taken unconscious and “in a critical condition” by emergency services to Princess Alexandra Hospital where he sadly died six days later. As SBS News reports, the “super cell storm” that caused the branch to fall “lashed southeast Queensland for hours” after beginning at around 6pm. The Bureau of Meteorology recorded wind gusts of 90km/hour and heavy rain, and over 60, 000 homes were without power at the height of the storm. The storm had been forecast two days earlier, and severe weather warnings for “damaging winds, heavy rainfall and large hailstones” had been communicated from the afternoon of the day before the event. Further warnings were also issued at 5.27pm on the day of the Festival, which began at 4pm according to The Courier Mail. Runner Darrell Giles said the storm was “sudden and unexpected”, with “perfect sunshine” at 5pm.  As darkness fell over the event and the storm hit, he expressed his terror at having to wait for lightning bolts and strikes to see anything after parts of the run lost power. Several other competitors were hurt from tripping during the race and have expressed their outrage at the organiser’s decision to not call off the event until hours after it began.

Comments on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have cited “poor organisation”, "a lack of communication to volunteers at the event”, and “chaos” between confused runners coming from both directions. A number of entrants also commented on social media that they did not even realise the race had been called off until they had reached the finish line.

The incident raises the issue of responsibilities of event organisers in hosting running events.   While an event organiser has a duty of care for the safety of participants in a running event so too does the land owners upon which the event is being held.  Both event organisers and venue owners and/or managers have positive due diligence obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act (Qld) 2011 to  ensure the safety of members of the public affected by their activities so far as is reasonably practicable. As event managers, race organisers owe participants a duty of care to manage foreseeable risks. It is also industry practice for a venue hosting an event to ensure that event organisers hosting events on their land, have sufficient risk and emergency management planning documentation in place and have given due consideration to risks and hazards. Individual participants are required to follow all reasonable instructions given by the event organiser and to not place themselves in unreasonable danger.  It is unclear from media reports on the incident above as to how well people were informed  of the pending dangers from bad weather; and if adverse weather was contained in the event’s emergency management plan.    

As comments on the official Twilight Facebook page suggest, time will tell if Twilight will be found liable in negligence for the tragic death.

Cairns Cable-Car Criticised

A power outage at a Cairns cable-car attraction on Saturday 23 March left 54 tourists “swinging in the breeze” at 40 metre heights for over four hours. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is usually a 2.5 hour experience that travels 7.5km over Barron River Falls and Red Peak. It has a multi-core communications cable in the middle of the towers which carries all safety circuit and voice communications. According to the Courier Mail, two cableways went ‘offline’ after a tree fell onto the electrical power system at approximately 4.20pm.  While one cableway was working within an hour, the other took until 8.30pm to reactivate. The ABC News reported that at the time of the incident it was “cold, dark and raining hard”, and the lack of communication to the  trapped visitors made it a “terrifying ordeal”.   Not all people affected were terrified however. One honeymooning couple told The Sunday Mail that they didn’t mind the holdup and trusted they would be safe, while others ‘slammed’ the operators for leaving them stranded.

The incident did not result in any serious injuries, and the honeymooners commented that they now “have a story to tell”. The incident however brings to light the duty of care which operators of Skyrails or any cable car owe to members of the public; that is, to ensure that the cable-car complies with all high risk plant safety requirements and that foreseeable safety risks are considered and mitigated. Hazards such as falling trees, fire, low flying aircraft and potential structural failures are all risks that may affect the safe operation of a cableway. While the risk management arrangements in place for the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway were not disclosed in the media, it would be expected that such risks would be addressed in a comprehensive risk management plan. It would also be expected that an emergency plan would be in place detailing response procedures for incidents of this nature.  These are all obligations required under the Queensland Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

It is noted that the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was closed the day following the incident to allow for an investigation into the specific cause of the problem.

Nascar Accident Results in Injuries to Spectators

A Nationwide Series race of the renowned NASCAR in Florida last month had shocking outcomes not only for the drivers, but for over thirty spectators after a spectacular crash took place. Several cars became tightly packed as they raced towards the finish line, and a collision between over twelve of them in the last curve of the race caused driver Kyle Larson’s car to bounce onto the track wall. The Telegraph reported that the impact caused the front end of Larson’s car to be “severely torn off”, and the tyre, engine and suspension parts landed in the fencing that separated the track from the spectators. The ensuing holes in the fencing allowed debris to fly into the crowd, while the 22-foot-long fence was not tall enough to prevent debris flying over and into as far as the second level of the grandstand. Paramedics on-site treated fourteen spectators while another fourteen were taken to local hospitals. Every driver involved in the collision was also checked for injuries. The Charlotte Observer reported that a piece of metal that flew 75 feet away from the track caused a head wound to spectator Steve Johnson and caused internal bleeding to his wife. Seated thirty rows away from the track, Mr Johnson acknowledged that “you can’t make everything safe,” and is not deterred from attending races in the future.

While there were no fatalities, the incident serves to highlight the risks to spectators in motorsports who are generally well protected from injury from track design and protective netting. While NASCAR has previously taken significant steps to protect spectators at major racing venues, by raising fences from fifteen to twenty-two feet, this incident demonstrates that even a barrier of reinforced wire and steel fencing is not immune to damage from high speed debris. According to The Charlotte Observer, Sam Gualardo of the American Society of Safety Engineers suggested that a canopy-like fence covering most of the race track like a “batting cage” would be a costly but worthwhile investment for NASCAR tracks. 

NASCAR is reportedly undertaking a review of safety fencing at the Florida track after the unfortunate incident. As Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski told CNN, at speeds of up to 175mph drivers generally “assume” the risk of crashing, while “fans do not.” In the interim between additional safety measures being implemented and the remainder of the Daytona 500 Series, perhaps it is up to fans to recognise the inherent risks of watching this dangerous sport.

Head Injuries from Contact Sports Connected with Degenerative Brain Disease

Former AFL great Greg Williams has again spoken out about his belief in the connection between head trauma suffered during high contact sports and degenerative brain disease, as a recent Channel 7 interview revealed.  During the interview the 1995 Carlton premiership star conceded that head trauma suffered throughout his 250-game long career that ended in 1997, has left him unable to remember not only much of the games he played in, but his honeymoon and children’s names. The Age reported that Williams is suffering mood swings, increased aggression, depression and memory loss, all of which are symptoms of the disease caused by ‘repeated blows to the head’, or Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE can only be diagnosed after death, a fact of which former NFL player Dave Duerson was aware when he requested his brain be examined for signs of CTE after his death. The examination revealed he ‘indisputably’ had CTE, as reported to ESPN.com by neuropathologist Dr Mckee of the Boston University’s Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. AFL journalist Mark Robinson of the Herald Sun reported that as American institutions are leading the research into high contact sports and CTE, there will be a  ‘lag time’ between what is discovered overseas and what is implemented here in Australia. Ideally in sports, the rules are based upon current knowledge regarding the health and safety of players, and new findings are reflected through adjusting the rules. In 2009, Washington and 15 other US states introduced the ‘Lystedt Law’ following a case of permanent brain injuries sustained by a high school footballer from continuing to play with a concussion. The law prohibits school students suspected of sustaining a concussion from playing football or hockey on school grounds until a doctor authorises them to do so. According to The Age, Williams hopes that exposing his harrowing experience of brain damage will help to protect all football players from the same fate. Williams made reference to the football culture of his day where a player was labelled ‘a wimp’ if he didn’t continue playing after being concussed, and said that there was no proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment. He expressed concern for not only AFL players, but for suburban and country footballers for whom adequate treatment is likely to be unavailable. Meanwhile, he suggested that today’s AFL players are ‘far more dangerous’, with collisions being even ‘more intense’ than when he was playing fifteen years ago.

As CNN reported, the issue of brain damage resulting from sport has sparked another school of thought which maintains that cognitive decline in sporting stars is the result of “genetics, alcohol, drugs, stress, bad luck” and lifestyle choices. The Sydney Morning Herald reveals that President Obama spoke out on the ostensible link between brain damage and high-impact sports recently, and there is mounting evidence of an increased risk of brain injury among athletes that experience multiple hits to the head. In the lag time between findings being integrated into sports policy, it may be vital for sporting regulatory bodies to manage the risk of brain injuries through educating players on the potential dangers of returning to play after concussion.

The Brisbane Times reported that Williams expressed outrage at the AFL’s “denial that CTE exists”, and said they and the AFL Players’ Association “need to do more”. He claims he is certain that head injuries sustained during a game will lead to ‘devastating long-term’ cognitive decline and advocates up to two months off for players who have sustained a heavy concussion. Hopefully the reported hardships of sporting champions like Williams will not be in vain, and that rules and regulations are adjusted to manage and minimise the very real risk of brain damage in contact sports.

League Legend’s Personal Troubles in the Spotlight

Last month the Canterbury Bulldogs’ 2012 Player of the Year Ben Barba was indefinitely suspended from club duties due to “behavioural issues” relating to his personal life. He was absent from the 2013 NRL season launch which he was due to open as the ‘face of the game’, and Bulldogs’ CEO Todd Greenberg reported to Seven News that it could be anything from “six weeks to six months before he plays again”. Greenberg said that the ‘multitude of issues’  the Dally M medallist faces are not “police matters” but rather breaches of the club’s code of conduct. Barba is dealing with the break-up of his long term relationship with the mother of his two children, amidst mass marketing and media coverage due to his public profile. News Limited reported that Barba has been a part of the Epic Bender Crew (EBC) since December last year; the Shire’s ‘notorious party’ group who “binge their way through the weekends”, and has their initials tattooed on his stomach. They also reported that gambling had become a problem for the player. Former Parramatta star Nathan Hindmarsh confirmed to The Australian that gambling has become “a bit of an addiction” for Barba.

As an ambassador of ANZ Stadium, sponsored by Nike and Fox Sports and touted as the face of the NRL, The Daily Telegraph cited the ‘enormous pressure’ on the 23-year-old player to be publically accountable. Unlike other players, on top of intensive training, Barba must regularly meet with a range of managers including media, football, and marketing as well as the coach and CEO. Gerard Daffy of Tattsbet reported to AAP that the announcement of Barba’s suspension wreaked havoc on NRL premiership betting markets ‘within hours’ of the news breaking. Sportsbet’s Ben Hawes said that Barba’s absence is a “massive blow” and that he “can safely say Canterbury can’t win the competition” [without him].

Red Bull had also selected Barba to be an ambassador of the international brand in an effort to reach a more mainstream market through their first ever sponsorship of a rugby league player. The Sun Herald reported however that such plans have now been put on hold. The mounting commercial pressure on sportspeople to not only perform but be a sporting exemplar can be overwhelming, and as the newspaper suggests, being chosen as the face of rugby league is a “poisoned chalice”.

Rather than terminating his contract, which Greenburg tells The Daily Telegraph would “not help him”, the Bulldogs are committed to Barba becoming a “better footballer and a better person” and have surrounded him with support services including a Sydney psychiatrist to aid personal development and accountability. With the ‘working man’s game’ attracting players from humble origins, stars are often unprepared for the fast transition into a life that is of huge public interest and commercial value. As the proverbial expression goes, prevention is better than cure and as Sunrise News suggests, equipping clubs with stars who rise “beyond comprehension very quickly” to cope with new-found fame is important for mitigating the reputational and financial risks of a public breakdown. With the pressure of corporate sponsorship and a huge fan base being part of the package of elite athleticism, it is important that in their day to day lives, star players are mindful of the reputation of the sport, the values of the sponsors with whom they are aligned and their avid supporters. Canterbury has demonstrated swift risk management in taking action to remove Barba from the football spotlight however this issue is a reminder of the potential for reputational and financial damage when a high profile player behaves badly.

Patron Injured by Flares at Soundwave Festival

At last month’s Soundwave concert at Sydney’s Olympic Park, several people sustained serious injuries from flares released into the crowd. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, a large flare was lit in a crowded mosh pit during the evening while rock band ‘Bring Me the Horizons’ played, shocking onlookers and causing “severe burns” to a female patron’s arm. In the 40,000 strong crowd at another arena of the festival another two flares were reportedly set off while Metallica played. St Johns’ Ambulances told the Sydney Morning Herald that they treated a total of three patrons for burns at the festival, but no one matched the description of the woman who had been hurt by the large flare. Twitter posts  from those who attended revealed that the girl had received initial care from a first aid worker at the festival before making her own way to her local hospital in Newcastle.

Aside from the flare problem, police reportedly evicted over eighty patrons  due to  intoxication.  Police also operated a drug detection program with sniffer dogs detecting  54 cases of possession of illicit drugs, including ice, amphetamines, ecstasy and cannabis. A spokesperson for NSW police after the event said that most of the crowd “behaved responsibly” however he acknowledged that security guards would generally not recognise a flare when looking out for suspicious objects, with the focus usually on “knives or alcohol”.

In response, Soundwave promoter A.J.  Maddah reportedly confirmed that security staff at subsequent Soundwave events in Melbourne and Adelaide were to receive extensive training on identifying flares. However with the wrath of Tweets broadcast by him following the Sydney event he said “if we catch anyone w/ flares you'll not only be evicted/arrested, I'll dedicate every iota of energy & money I can muster to ruin your life.” We can only hope future flare smugglers think twice before setting off flares at public events.

Super Bowl Blackout

A partial power failure at the recent Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans caused a 35 minute blackout in approximately half of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome . The LA Times has labelled this incident a most ‘embarrassing’ glitch at the nation’s ‘most watched’ sport event. With over 100 million viewers nation-wide and televised in over 180 countries, the match between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Fransisco 49ers was paused in the second half and the CBS broadcast went off the air for the majority of the outage. Inside the stadium, escalators and eftpos machines also stopped working. The power outage was found to have been caused by a faulty relay device that had been installed months prior to the big game, ironically to protect the stadium from blackouts resulting from cable failures. As CNN News reports, the question of who is to blame has come down to SMG, the company that manages the Superdome; S&C Electric Co., the manufacturers of the relay device; or Entergy, the company that installed it.

Electrical engineering expert Professor Mehraeen told the LA Times that it is “not unusual for [relay devices] to have problems...they can be unpredictable, despite national testing standards recommended by manufacturers.” Perhaps then the issue is the apparent lack of risk analysis and contingency planning. The power blackout had a significant impact on advertisers who, according to marketing expert Josh Leibowitz, paid up to US$38 million per 30 second ad slot during the broadcast of the game.

With the mass popularity amongst spectators of user-generated content platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the 35-minute pause in the game saw over 230, 000 tweets per minute. This time, according to Leibowitz, could have been used by the event organisers to generate valuable spectator feedback on advertising initiatives, or to inform viewers of what was being done to rectify the situation. Some advertisers engaged in the online banter, with Audi tweeting a ‘swipe’ at Mercedes-Benz, after whom the Superdome is officially named. As CNN News reports, spectators’ tweets which focussed on the blackout may have generated negative publicity for the stadium, and ignited fears in the host city for future bids for the Super Bowl.

According to officials from Entergy, the faulty device has since been removed and replaced, however the ramifications of the Superdome’s apparent lack of contingency planning and the missed opportunities for the games’ advertisers cannot be undone.

Risk Tolerance in Religious Festivals

A stampede at a train station has resulted in over 35 deaths and many more injuries, which will now tragically define the ‘most auspicious’ day of the 55-day long Kumbh Mela religious festival in India. Hindu pilgrims flocked to the northern city of Allahabad to atone their sins at the Sangam where three rivers meet, and the world’s “largest gathering of humanity” saw the city’s population temporarily rise from approximately 1.2 million to 30 million, according to ABC News. Sky News reported, as Sunday drew to an end, the train station became extremely overcrowded. A spokesperson for the Indian state, Ashok Sharma, claimed that deaths resulted from a railway bridge collapsing under the pressure of an excessive amount of travellers who were “resting” on the structure at the same time.

After hearing of the devastating loss of life, the festival’s Chief Organiser resigned while the Indian Prime Minister has announced he is “deeply shocked” by the deaths.  As BigPond News suggests, given that the event, which takes place every three years, has previously resulted in the deaths of over 220 people, perhaps this information should not have come as such a shock to planning officials.

According to the Gulf Times, survivors have disputed the Indian Railway Minister’s claim that the deaths resulted simply from overcrowding, and have criticised poor emergency response procedures claiming that medics did not arrive on the scene for hours. Others reported that panicked pilgrims flocked towards the bridge in response to baton-armed police “charging” the crowd at the station. As was noted in an article in The Australian, “crushes are a constant menace” at religious festivals not just in India, but around the world.  In 1990 for example 1426 deaths  resulted from a crowd surge at an annual religious festival in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Despite improvements in preventative measures such as crowd management and policing, the the risk of serious injury and death during the Hajj Festival in Mecca continues . The tolerance for crowd-related risk at large-scale events in Australia is lower than in many other, where crowd control and safety measures are not legally enforceable.   In this country any death at an event is deemed as unacceptable.

Sports and Supplements Scandal

In the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and its devastating effects for cycling as a sport, the issue of doping in Australian sports has been on the public radar. Last week’s “bombshell” report by the Australian Crime Commission on the alleged widespread use of illegal drugs in Australian sports has left AFL and NRL clubs eager to assure governing bodies that their practices have not been in breach of the World Anti-Doping Agency Code, according to ABC News.  AFL club Essendon is being investigated by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) with regards to the club’s employment of sports scientist Steve Danks to tailor supplement programs for players in 2012. The ramifications, if the club is found to have been in breach of code rules, could span from brand damage to a four year ban from competition.

 As reported by the Herald Sun, AFL Players Association CEO Matt Finnis has suggested the ASADA investigation should focus on the sports scientists rather than the players.  He suggested that although players accept responsibility for substances ingested, they can be “unwittingly” caught up in illegal conduct. Players and coaches claim to have been “in the dark” about Danks’ supplement regime. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), however Danks claims that every supplement he prescribed to Essendon was within the WADA guidelines, heavily discussed with management and players, and recorded in an electronic register. He also suggested that there were consent forms signed by the players. The SMH also suggested that there is evidence that coach James Hird and high-performance manager Dean Robinson took supplements under Danks’ guide that were outside the WADA code. The investigation has found that Danks’ other business interest, two medical ‘rejuvenation clinics’ in NSW and Victoria, are selling a supplement that is banned by ASADA, can have the same effect as human growth hormone, and is undetectable in drug testing.

 As The Daily Telegraph reports, Danks’ previous employers and clients including five NRL and two AFL clubs all agree that he was not afraid to push boundaries, and encouraged the use of “unorthodox” substances such as calf-blood injections and radical, highly expensive herbal products. The Manly Warrigah Sea Eagles’ manager reportedly reacted to the news of accusations against Danks by stating there were “never any concerns” that Danks’ programs violated the NRL and WADA’s rules.

 As reported by ABC News, Danks’ lawyer Greg Stanton has suggested Danks is a ‘scapegoat’ for the buzz amid the AFL and NRL community following ‘strenuous denials’ of using banned substances. This was after 6 NRL clubs and Essendon were mentioned in the ACC report. To date, the ACC has not released any information to suggest actual proof of clubs breaching any governing bodies’ protocols, and as Stanton suggests, much unsubstantiated, vague information is at the centre of the controversy. According to the ABC, the WADA President commented that the ACC has taken a “very public approach to doping allegations”, and despite the fact that Essendon did not exhibit improved performance throughout 2012, with the pre-season beginning last weekend such controversy can tarnish the sport and bring quality players under close scrutiny. Perhaps the investigation will at the very least serve as a warning to all elite athletes about the ramifications of menacing with drugs.

Surf Lifesaving Australia Introduces Compulsory Buoyancy Vests

The death of a competitor at the Surf Life Saving Australia’s (SLSA) junior national titles in March last year and subsequent recommendations from the Coronor has prompted the organisation to introduce buoyancy vests for future surf lifesaving events. The tragic drowning of 14-year-old Matthew Barclay of Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club was the third death of a competitor during a SLSA event at Kurrawa beach since 1996. In 1996 and 2010 respectively, Robert Gatenby and Saxon Bird drowned at Kurrawa while participating in national surf life saving titles. Kurrawa is set to remain the designated venue for the national surf life saving titles until 2017. A recommendation that stemmed from the coronial inquest into Barclay’s death last year was that floatation vests and helmets be worn by competitors during competitions. However, this year’s Navy Australian Surf Rowers League (ASRL) series at Manly saw all competitors donning buoyancy safety vests for the first time since the league was formed in 1992, as reported by the SMH.

ASRL treasurer Don Alexander credits this year’s 25% increase in the number of participants to the introduction of the vests, which is surely a positive outcome, however only time will tell how effective this risk mitigating strategy will be in controlling the risk of drowning. This year’s season ended without any mishaps on February 8th with competitors from around the nation competing in the Open titles at Stockton Beach in Newcastle.

Nurse’s Death after Hoax Call

The behaviour of the media is set to again come under the microscope following a radio prank by announcers of Sydney Radio station 2DayFM who, while impersonating the Queen and Prince Charles in a call to the hospital hosting the Duchess of Cambridge, convinced the hospital’s switchboard to forward the call to a nurse who unwittingly offered details of the Duchess’ morning sickness condition to the caller. It has been suspected that the subsequent public outrage may have contributed to the suicide of the call receiver nurse Jacintha Saldanha. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, in an attempt to gain information on the admission of the Duchess of Cambridge to the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, 2Day FM hosts Mel Craig and Michael Christian called the hospital pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles. They later claimed that their poor English accents were supposed to have been the main thrust of the prank.  Ms Saldintha put the call through to another nurse, who subsequently revealed the details of the Duchess’ illness. In response to the hoax being replayed internationally, the hospital CEO expressed his “embarrassment” at the breach of telephone and security protocol, while it made headlines around the world and with the UK press denouncing the act entirely.

As website news.com reported, Ms Saldintha was found dead at the nurse’s headquarters two days following the release of the call. Police have launched an inquest into the suicide note she left and whether she was disciplined by the hospital following the call. Despite the fact that the station’s owner, Southern Cross Austereo’s boss stated that the DJs had not “broken any laws” nor intended any malice, this tragic situation has brought into question the far-reaching repercussions of hoax phone calls and what unforeseeable consequences might result. The hospital denies the station’s claim that repeated attempts had been made to inform them of the airing of the call.

While it is unclear as to whether any breaches have occurred from this current incident, 2DayFM has not in the past been without attention from the industry regulator, Australian Communication and Media Authority’s (ACMA) for breaches of the Commercial Radio’s Code of Practice.  The Examiner reported that in May this year, the ACMA found that 2DayFM had breached the ''decency provision'' of the broadcasting Code when breakfast presenter Kyle Sandilands called a female journalist a ''fat slag'' and a ''piece of shit'' on air.  The policy of adopting controversial entertainment content clearly comes with a reputational risk for the station and its owners.

Russel Crowe Selling South Sydney

Russell Crowe’s decision to sell his stake in the South Sydney’s Rabbitohs has raised some criticism from sceptics as to the benefit his ownership brought the team, and now the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Club. However,the Bunnies’ Chief Executive Shane Richardson said that Crowe ceasing to be co-owner would have no detrimental impact. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out the myriad of benefits Crowe’s association with the team has delivered. The article said that it has been ‘widely acknowledged’ that Crowe’s involvement is behind the team’s ‘enviable list’ of sponsors, and has attracted world-class players including Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis. The latest transaction that Crowe landed his team was a major sponsorship deal with the glamorous new Sydney casino, the Star, as well as attracting the likes of Tom Cruise and ‘other A-grade celebrities to the footy.’ Richardson stated that there is no need for concern regarding a loss of publicity for the team, as the club’s sponsorship deals have been ‘signed for the next two years’. Despite the remarkable success of the team under Crowe’s ownership (including $6 million in annual sponsorship, 22,000 members and average crowds of over 18,000 at home matches), Fairfax reported well known concerns about the difficulty of making money out of privately owned rugby league clubs.

The risks of privatising club licenses in the NRL have been a subject of debate following the financial demise of several clubs over the years including, most recently, the Newcastle Knights. Notwithstanding such risks there are many high profile sports administrators who remain in support of privatisation.  Ex-NRL Head and now Chairman of Venues NSW,  John Quayle was reported by SBS television as emphasising the importance of managing this risk by installing bank guarantees as a condition of all NRL club licenses.

Quayle said the game's governing body the ARL Commission, needed to ensure that such strict restrictions continued to be a condition of private ownership. "That guarantee means the club's future is secure. The NRL needs to ensure that each time a licence is handed over it is done so with similar guarantees in place."

Financial Troubles Strike Newcastle Football Clubs

Making almost daily headlines are the financial woes of coal baron, Nathan Tinkler, as he faces the ever looming potential of bankruptcy. Tinkler, once reportedly the youngest billionaire in Australia, who was estimated to be worth more than AUS$1.1b, has seen his business aspirations disintegrate following the collapse of some of his high profile business interests; and now, these woes may have an impact on his sporting interests.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Tinkler was once hailed as the ‘saviour’ of the NRL Newcastle Knights and became owner of the A-League Club, the Newcastle Jets. However it is now reported that the Australian Tax Office has made moves to liquidate and recover outstanding tax debts owed by both teams and their parent company, the Hunter Sports Group to the tune of $3.8m.  But the problems for the parent company do not stop there,  the Hunter Sports Group is also being sued by the NSW Government for over $600,000 in unpaid rent for the hire of Hunter Stadium. Tinkler’s horse breeding stud, Patinack Farm is also in financial trouble.  The operations are estimated to be losing a reported $500,000 per week with Fairfax reporting that staff had gone without being paid, horses without being fed, and workers compensation and tax debts outstanding.

In response to the demise of the Newcastle Knights, NRL Interim CEO Shane Mattiske told the Telegraph that “there are a number of safeguards that were built into the original transfer of the licence of Hunter Sports that remain in place”. As was reported in the Courier Mail, it is understood in the Newcastle Knights case, a $20 million bank guarantee was part of the original Tinkler purchase.  This offers some risk assurance for the Club.  There has been recent conjecture in the media however regarding whether this issue has damaged the image and reputation of the Knights club. There is a risk that sponsors may not be willing to support the club while it is experiencing financial difficulty.

In the case of the Jets, no financial safeguards have been put in place. According to Ten News, such a risk was a reality for the Jets and further, the Football Federation of Australia. In 2011 Tinkler, having gained awareness that he had paid far more to purchase the Jets than other owners in the A-league, handed in the team’s A-league licence, leaving the league with a mere nine teams and forcing a loss of employment within the Jets’ staff. Combined with Tinkler’s recent sudden sacking of the Jets’ football advisory board, this action highlighted the fragility of sporting groups that are so dependent upon corporate support for their survival.

The Wrath of Sandy

The havoc that last month’s Superstorm Sandy wreaked on New York businesses served as a reminder of the importance of emergency readiness. The Economist reported that small restaurants, retailers, the offices of major companies such as Goldman Sachs, as well as transport and utility suppliers were all affected by the super storm.  The storm interrupted the operations and supply chains of a range of businesses and public service providers and revealed shortfalls in business continuity plans. The facilities of New York and Westchester County electricity supplier ConEdison were designed to tolerate tidal surges that were 0.5m less than what the storm provided. Consequently, close to one million customers were without power following the storm, and nearly 80,000 were without power still nine days afterwards. New York hospitals also lost power despite moving back-up generators above ground due to fuel and pumps being inaccessible. Last year’s devastating Tsunami in Japan and severe floods in Thailand highlighted the need for global supply chains as business’ usual means of sourcing goods were disrupted. The Economist pointed out that with networking comes increased risk as once independent activities become bound together, disruptions have flow-on effects. While cloud computing has been embraced recently as a way to store (more) data, the Economist pointed out business’ vulnerability to cyber-attack, which despite precautions taken post-Y2K, is still a significant enough risk to warrant firms considering “having a committee explicitly focussed on understanding IT and network risks and ensuring they are properly managed.”

The New York Times reported that the continuity plans of 23% of large firms do not include their entire supply chain, providing a false sense of comfort for the enterprise which might underestimate the impact of disruption to suppliers further down the chain. It is important for organisations to start by understanding their critical business functions, determining what can cause those functions to fail, gauge how long they can afford to be out for, and then build a contingency and recovery plan to cope.

Geographically, the latitude of  super storm Sandy in the northern hemisphere occurred roughly at the equivalent of Melbourne Australia in the south.  A cyclonic storm at that latitude (outside the tropics)  is unheard of, yet the incident in NY shows the potential of what can happen to a city that is not designed to cope with such an onslaught from mother nature. It begs the question as to whether organisations in the venues, events and sports industries are prepared?  Do you understand your critical business functions?  What are those functions dependant upon?  What would happen if that dependency was temporarily unavailable unexpectedly?  How would you know?  What is the plan?

 

Time to Sweep the Dopes from Cycling and Pay the Money Back!

The biggest news in sport last month must be the fallout from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.  As reported in our September edition of #*IT Happens, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and disqualified from competition for life by the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA).   USADA had laid charges against Armstrong for the possession, trafficking, use and distribution of performance enhancing drugs including  EPO [erythropoietin], blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone and HGH [human growth hormone] during the period between 1996-2005. 

Well now insurance companies are taking legal action against Armstrong to repossess $12 million paid to him in bonuses he collected over his career.

As reported on website news.com Dallas insurance company SCA Promotions has sought back bonus money and indicated that they may also seek other legal sanctions and penalties against the US cyclist. The potential legal action could come in connection with Armstrong’s false testimony during an arbitration hearing in 2005-2006.

A lawyer representing the insurer confirmed SCA was seeking $7.5m paid out to Armstrong after a 2006 arbitration proceeding, which included a $5m bonus as well as interest and legal fees. 

During Armstrong's career of competing for the US Postal Service team, the parent company Tailwind Sports took out a policy with SCA Promotions to cover bonuses paid to Armstrong for his Tour de France wins.

The insurer withheld a $5m bonus due after Armstrong's sixth Tour de France win in 2004 because of doping allegations.  Following this, Armstrong took them to court and won because the original insurance contract did not stipulate any conditions about doping.  It is unknown as to the detail of subsequent policies held and whether this latest legal action has a better chance of success.  

Given Armstrong’s continued denial of any doping claims, this latest claim will undoubtedly be strongly contested in the courts.

Hillsborough Inquest Damning on Public Authorities

A recent inquest into a fatal incident that occurred over twenty years ago during an FA Cup (football) game at Hillsborough Stadium has led to British Prime Minister David Cameron apologising in parliament,  according to a report on the ABC. Prior to the inquest, the deaths of 96 and injuries suffered by  766 spectators at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989 had been  blamed on over-enthusiastic, intoxicated and “ticketless” fans that allegedly ignored police attempts to prevent entry into the stadium. Due to the potentially dangerous build-up of fans outside of the stadium prior to the match, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield had demanded that an exit gate be opened. This gate allowed hundreds of spectators into what was an “already overcrowded”, enclosed, unmanned area, causing a crash barrier to break. Police reports indicated that Duckenfield claimed spectators had simply rushed through the gate. However ‘The Taylor Report’, which documented the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s recent investigation, revealed that the venue did not meet minimum safety requirements and that poor planning had been undertaken by emergency services. The report suggested that these factors, not hooliganism, were to blame for the fatalities. The Guardian reported that police were found to have been negligent in allowing people entry through the gate and that crowd management plans had been insufficient. Senior police were also found to have rewritten 116 of the 164 witness statements from the incident so as to ensure that this would not be revealed to the public. The Independent Panel additionally found that had prompt medical treatment been administered, up to 41 of the fatalities may have been prevented.

While the Taylor Report’s findings have prompted the elimination of standing terraces at major stadiums in Wales, England and Scotland, the disastrous outcome of the FA Cup game highlights a crucial need for adherence to rigorous safety standards for public venues. Venue managers, security personnel, police and emergency services all have a role to play in ensuring that incidents of this nature are prevented in the future.

Alan Jones’ Breakfast Show Boycott

Talkback radio host Alan Jones’ statement at a Young Liberals dinner last month that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father “died of shame” due to her “lies” has sparked a heavy withdrawal of companies’ advertising and sponsorship of his 2GB Breakfast Show to the value of $80, 000 per day. According to the Sunday Telegraph, following the controversial speech, a Facebook page entitled ‘Destroy the Joint’ was created by Jenna Price to encourage companies to withdraw advertising from his Breakfast Show or else risk being viewed by the public as supporting a “sexist and misogynistic” person. After Coles, Woolworths, Mercedes-Benz and ING Direct expressed their desire to cut advertising and sponsorship ties with the show, its owner, Macquarie Radio Network temporarily suspended all advertising on the show. In light of this, Macquarie’s Executive Chairman Russel Tate said he recognised most Breakfast Show listeners have neither significantly changed their opinion of the show nor the advertisers that remain on the show, and that he accepted Jones’ public apology to the Prime Minister and public recognition of his error.

While this short-term negative impact was unprecedented in radio-media, as testament to his brand resilience, according to the Sydney Neilsen radio survey conducted over the three weeks following Jones’ remarks, Jones won his timeslot with a 0.5% gain in ratings. Macquarie’s reasons for suspending advertising on the program were related to a need to address the “totally unwarranted pressure” on their advertisers, as well as the “avalanche of demands” via social media users, who, Tate states, are unlikely to be Breakfast Show or 2GB listeners.

Such was the pressure of Jones’ online critics and social media campaigners that “serious threats” were made to shut down emails and disrupt the business of the show’s advertisers; actions Jones refers to as ‘cyber bullying’. However, Labor MP Graham Perrett affirmed that social media campaigns are a valid basis for which companies should choose to withdraw advertising.

Given today’s increasingly tech--savvy environment and the public’s access to a plethora of information through the advent of smart-phones, perhaps the backlash following Jones’ comments is not terribly surprising. While the comments evidently have not unfavourably affected Breakfast Show listeners, they have come at a “very significant [financial] cost” to the MRN. As The Australian reports, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd suggests that Jones’ claims of being under attack by ‘cyber-bullies’ is hypocritical, as Jones has “dished it out with a shovel” in recent years and has “been a bully himself.” This is a reminder that public figures, who are critical of others can themselves be at risk from public pressure through such highly influential mediums.