Dana Johannsen: Busy schedules hard on players

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It's time commercially focused leaders tackled the issue of growing their sport without flogging the talent.

As far back as 2002 the issue of the length of the rugby season was being discussed. Photo / Getty images
As far back as 2002 the issue of the length of the rugby season was being discussed. Photo / Getty images

It's getting pretty crowded out there in the sporting market.

No longer is there just the boring traditional fare of rugby, league, cricket and netball on offer - there's Sevens, T20, Fast5 and now, after previous incarnations were axed a decade ago, league's new spin-off edition, the NRL Auckland Nines.

Organisers yesterday unveiled rules for the February tournament, which will feature all 16 NRL clubs. Aside from the reduction of players to nine-a-side, there weren't a great many rule innovations, but enough changes to satisfy the masses that they are really introducing a new and exciting product into the sporting sphere.

With the clubs contractually bound to bring across at least one of their top five earners and 12 of their 25-strong first-grade squad, there is guaranteed to be a smattering of star power at the tournament, making for a pretty exciting spectacle across the two days. But the addition of another fixture on the league calendar continues a worrying trend.

As sports become increasingly commercially minded, administrators are always looking to create new revenue-spinning opportunities. But that comes at the cost of player welfare.

I'm not singling out league here. It's not as if the players would otherwise be putting their feet up - they'd likely be getting flogged in some training camp or playing in other pre-season fixtures to ensure they're match-fit for their 26-week season.

It's a challenge facing all professional sporting bodies, and not a very new one at that. As far back as 2002 the issue of the length of the rugby season was being discussed, with concerns raised at the time the Super 12 season was too long and placing excessive demands on the players when you throw the domestic competition and international commitments into the mix. Since then the Super Rugby competition has been expanded twice, as has the international season with Argentina joining the Sanzar triumvirate.

The move to professionalism five years ago has created similar concerns for netball - what once was a game played barely six months of the year has now been expanded to 10 through the advent of the ANZ Championship, more regular international competition and, in the past few years, the Fast5 World Series.

And yet for all the attention the issue of player welfare gets across all the codes, little seems to be done at an administrative level to reduce the workload of the athletes.

It is a tough one for sports bodies - they've got a responsibility to grow their games and to do that it often means opening their sport up to new markets by adding fixtures in far-off lands as the NZRU have done, or developing new versions of the sport to target a different audience.

It's about time sports leaders used some of that creativity and the lateral thinking they've shown in developing new spin-off versions of their game, to tackle the issue of how to grow their game without simply adding to players' workload.

- NZ Herald

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