Loyalty In Sport Exists, But Only If It Brings Success

28/08/2015 7:02 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Cameron Spencer via Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 19: Robbie Farah of the Tigers runs the ball during the round seven NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Canberra Raiders at Leichhardt Oval on April 19, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

There’s nothing like the issue of loyalty in football to send people into a frenzy of daily heated debate.

This week’s fuel for the fire comes from the NRL.

The Wests Tigers has told its club captain, Robbie Farah, a veteran of 13 years and 236 games, that his services will not be required next year.

To be fair, the club board, through the coach Jason Taylor, phrased it much more politely and perhaps less definitively, saying he was welcome to look at offers from other clubs for the 2016 season.

Farah has made no secret of the fact he considers himself a one-club player and feels his loyalty to the Tigers very deeply. So his response to this is that he will fight this decision given he has two years left on his three year contract. The response to which, from the coach, is that Farah will then be playing in the reserves.

Initially, reports referred to the salary cap and the financial constraints of the club as being a catalyst; then word of disharmony between Farah, the coach and his teammates surfaced. This line has, of course, been quashed by Farah’s good friend and teammate Aaron Wood on behalf of all the players. The issue of his relationship with the coach however, remains in the mix.

The Wests Tigers are currently battling hard, with just two rounds to go in the home and away season, to avoid the ignominy of being the 2015 holders of the wooden spoon.

So has loyalty always been an illusion which is being tested to its fullest by the professionalism of sport in the modern era?

Ben Ikin, NRL former player and current media commentator and presenter said the strength of the business dictates the degree of loyalty.

“Because it’s become such a cut-throat business and there’s so much at stake with everyone involved, I would say loyalty is not dead but it’s certainly less common than it used to be.

“Everybody is happy to maintain the illusion of loyalty, but (only) while everybody remains on the same page.”

In the current case of Robbie Farah, what is becoming apparent is it being about his relationship with new coach Jason Taylor.

“But if you take the case of the Wests Tigers and Robbie Farah – he’s still playing great football; he’s been at that club his entire career but … Robbie Farah and Jason Taylor are not on the same page," Ikin said.

"Therefore there’s no loyalty in that relationship."

In contrast, Melbourne Storm star fullback, Billy Slater, this week re-signed with the club for another two years to see out his playing career as a one team player. Slater said he never considered looking to any other club and felt a strong loyalty to the Melbourne Storm.

The difference? Slater's relationship with Craig Bellamy is strong; Farah's with Taylor clearly isn't.

“Loyalty is a convenient truth. Because this is a performance based industry, then loyalty can still remain part of the reason while two parties continue to work (well) together.”

And so what of the fans who are expected to remain loyal to their chosen club through good times and bad? Clubs expect loyalty and support from their fans and obviously, in the case of the Wests Tigers, a level of unquestioned trust and blind faith.

If the view is that the illusion of loyalty only forms into a reality when times are good and success is being achieved, then we have to accept that the sports we love to watch are in the most part a business, a commercial concern and the players are simply commodities which need to be of value to the club or they just become liabilities.

“Fans more than anything want success and they want the club’s loyalty to be towards achieving that success," Ikin said.

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