Tuesday 24 October 2017 / 02:29 AM

A sporting punishment that fits the crime

Five weeks after Ben Flower’s sickening second blow to the head of St Helens’ Lance Hohaia in the Super League grand final, it was announced that Wigan Warriors found him guilty of ‘gross misconduct’. His wages will be docked by 50 per cent for the next six months, with three months of that sentence suspended and subject to his return during 12 months. He must also complete a community rehabilitation programme.

As any responsible parent or employer should, Wigan have severely reprimanded their asset and now they will help him through a dark recuperation period. They could have concluded that the 13-match, six-month ban the RFL handed down was sufficient, or left him to join a less scrupulous team. They chose to stick by him.

Flower’s name will be forever tarnished, and some would argue that is punishment enough, but the actions of the club’s disciplinary committee should set an example to rest of the sporting world – all the way down to grassroots.

An elite sportsperson regularly competing in ‘mainstream’ sport has a fairly comfortable life. No doubt, some will have experienced great hardship to have arrived where they are, but the majority no longer have to worry about financially supporting themselves or their families – while they are playing, at least.

So the only thing that stands in their way is suitable punishment for any crime that warrants it. For most sportspeople – and it is football under the spotlight here – a fine into the tens (even hundreds) of thousands fails to have even their accountants blinking an eyelid.

In 2001, Manchester United’s Roy Keane was banned for three matches and fined £5,000 for his shocking assault on Alfe-Inge Håland’s knee. Regardless of what came out afterwards in Keane’s book, this was around 10 per cent of his weekly wage for one week. Manchester United chose not to add to the measly punishment at the time.

Luis Suarez still denies intentionally biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, while the Uruguayan Football Association unscrupulously and unsuccessfully appealed his ban of nine international matches. Barcelona, the club who have always positioned themselves as morally above any other, signed Suarez despite his regrettable record. The ‘football-related’ activities ban was then lifted, allowing him to appear in a string of friendlies, essentially belittling his crime. Suarez served four months away from competitive football and paid FIFA 100,000CHF – hardly punishments that endanger his footballing or financial future.

 

It cannot be acceptable that a professional adult can bite somebody for the third time and, not only escape with mild punishment, but secure a move to the greatest football club on earth. No doubt he enjoyed an impressive pay rise with it.

The list goes on. The message to the sporting star of tomorrow has to be that this behaviour will not be condoned.

In refusing to sack Ben Flower, Wigan Warriors took some responsibility for his actions. They accepted his RFL punishment and hit him with their own. Now they will ensure that he is carefully reintegrated into the game, unlikely to repeat such ill-discipline. Well done Wigan.

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Tom Penistone

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