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NRL steps in to stop Stewart starting in seas -

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NRL steps in to stop Stewart starting in season opener

The World Today - Wednesday, 11 March , 2009 12:22:00

Reporter: Simon Santow

ELEANOR HALL: The National Rugby League has intervened to reverse a decision by the Manly Sea
Eagles to allow a player who's been charged with sexual assault to play on the weekend.

NRL has penalised Brett Stewart and his club for breaching the game's code of conduct. It's banned
Stewart from playing in the next four matches and it's also fined the Manly Sea Eagles $100,000.

The NRL says it makes no judgement on any matter being investigated by police.

Simon Santow has our report.

SIMON SANTOW: The Manly Sea Eagles might have known they were courting controversy when they
decided to select Brett Stewart in their team for the weekend.

SCOTT PENN: The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles board tonight confirmed that Brett Stewart will play on
Saturday night. We acknowledge that this is a difficult situation for all concerned, and have
considered the varying opinions. However, the fact remains that the allegations against Brett are
just that - allegations.

The board's decision is consistent with the situation that prevails in a number of other
professions, the governing bodies of which allow them to continue to practice their professions
until a decision of the court renders them unfit to do so.

Coach Des Hasler said the rugby league community must allow Brett Stewart the presumption of
innocence as is the every right of every other Australian.

SIMON SANTOW: But club chairman Scott Penn may have underestimated the depth of the reaction to
their decision this morning.

The Federal Government wasn't happy, so too the Opposition. Spokesman on Sport Andrew Southcott.

ANDREW SOUTHCOTT: I don't believe he should play this weekend. I believe he should be stood down
from his public duties and from his playing role with Manly. For him not to be stood down displays
insensitivity to the victim and to the family of the victim.

SIMON SANTOW: NSW Minister for Women, Verity Firth, joined in the condemnation.

VERITY FIRTH: I'm concerned about the message that's being sent that these charges are not serious.
These charges are serious; they should be treated as serious by the club. Other clubs in similar
situations have stood players aside while things are cleared up.

SIMON SANTOW: Manly's stunts have upset many League fans who took to the commercial airwaves to
voice their opinions.

CALLER: And I've just been thinking, I mean, if my business was a sponsor of the Manly football
club, I'd be in contact with the CEO saying, look, if you want to continue my sponsorship, then I'd
like to voice my opinion in that he shouldn't be playing.

HOST: Mary, hello.

MARY: Hi, guys. Yeah, Manly fan, long time Manly fan. Look, I'm really, really disappointed in the
way the club's handled this.

SECOND CALLER: These incidents that are coming up with footballers glassing women in the face and
footballers allegedly sexually assaulting women and all that type of thing, I mean the community's
got a right to be absolutely outraged with these people, the way they're carrying on.

I mean, these sort of things don't happen and if it was Joe Punter in the public who performed
these low acts against women, you know, they should be put behind bars.

THIRD CALLER: I think the NRL should really crack down when they go and meet them today. I think
it's just a joke that Brett Stewart can actually play this weekend.

HOST: If the board is not responsible enough to do the right thing, the NRL has to say today,
"we're standing you down."

SIMON SANTOW: In amongst the criticism, there was limited support for Brett Stewart's continued
presence on the field.

CALLER: I reckon he should play. I'm a season ticket holder for Manly. He is - the law says
innocent until proven guilty. Problem is, everyone just picks on the footballers. You go out every
single night; you go to the courts and see how many assault charges there is.

HOST: Will, hello.

WILL: Look, I'm just ringing to say, look, the young man - because I don't really follow football,
but I've been listening to it this morning - the young man's been charged with an offence. He has
not been convicted with an offence.

HOST: No.

WILL: So in fairness to him, he hasn't been proven by his peers that he's done the wrong thing.
We're automatically shooting everybody and people are saying, "we're not going to follow the game,
we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that". What happens if he's not convicted and
he's proven innocent?

SIMON SANTOW: After a morning of talks at NRL headquarters, Manly were told they were to be
punished for breaching the game's code of conduct. The code demands players conduct themselves in a
sober, courteous and professional manner.

And while the NRL were at pains to say it wasn't reacting to the alleged sexual assault, its
penalties were heavy. Brett Stewart won't be allowed to play for the first four matches of the
season and Manly has been fined $100,000. All of this on a day when many observers were saying the
credibility and image of rugby league was at stake.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Santow reporting.