Memo all sporting bodies: If one of your players is accused of a serious crime like rape, stand them down and ban them from playing until their case is decided in law.

If necessary, have that little zinger written into each and every contract so there can be no disputes and no misunderstandings. It doesn't matter if the plea is not guilty, the laying of serious charges should be a trigger.

It's all about bringing the game into disrepute. If sports bodies – like the NRL and New Zealand Cricket – want to avoid episodes like the Jack de Belin saga in Australia or the different fuss surrounding New Zealand cricketer Scott Kuggeleijn, they may have to begin normalising this concept and process.

Before players' reps and civil liberties types holler blue murder about the presumption of innocence, no one is removing that. It will be there until the accused has his day in court.


Aha, they might say, but isn't standing a player down while still not proven guilty driving a filthy great truck over the presumption of innocence?

Jack De Belin during the NRL Elimination Final. Photo / Getty
Jack De Belin during the NRL Elimination Final. Photo / Getty

Not if it is enshrined in a mutually agreed player's contract that the allegation of any serious crime – and that can be defined as rape, manslaughter, murder, drug running, assault causing injury, domestic violence, whatever – will earn an instant and automatic stand-down until the matter is resolved in court.

The catalyst for all this is mostly de Belin, who has pleaded not guilty to aggravated sexual assault charges and is free to continue training as his side prepares for the upcoming NRL season.

De Belin, 27, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail after being accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in the company of a friend in December. A magistrate said he granted bail because de Belin is a high-level sportsperson with obligations, unlikely to flee. Now it looks as if de Belin will play in at least some of the first five rounds for the Dragons.

While the NRL has said it is cracking down on off-field behaviour, a spokesman told AAP it wouldn't change its policy to stand de Belin down until the case was decided.

How loony is this? The NRL recently banned Cowboys flier Ben Barba for life after allegations of domestic violence and viewing CCTV footage of an altercation which, for whatever reason, didn't make it to court. Work those two outcomes out…

Innocent until proven guilty remains sacrosanct; but pleading not guilty and being bailed in the meantime does not necessarily mean you are fit to be selected in a football team. On one side is the law, as clear as our imperfect society can make it. On the other side, there are sponsors, fans, children and the moral dignity of the game to consider when it comes to "disrepute".

As this column has pointed out many times, if I was accused of aggravated sexual assault, my ass would be out of here before you could say "drunken footballers".

Fans hold a sign at Eden Park directed at Scott Kuggeleijn. Photo / Getty
Fans hold a sign at Eden Park directed at Scott Kuggeleijn. Photo / Getty

I would quietly disappear, probably placed on "gardening leave", my picture byline unused, a crying shame for mothers who use it to frighten their kids when reluctant to go to bed...

If the allegations were disproved, I would be able to claim my job back though both parties might have moved on by then; the awkwardness of trying to write about the issues of the day may prove too much if the cloud of disrepute lingers.

So why should footballers have it any different? They, at least, would be able to resume their trade once proved not guilty or, as in the case of former Kiwi prop Russell Packer, when rehabilitated.

The Kuggeleijn case is a bit different. It took three or four years to be decided – a long time to be denied your profession, admittedly. He was found not guilty but his "punishment" has continued in the court of public opinion with debate about New Zealand Cricket not being more censorious.

Communication seems the main issue – though there are rumblings a decision may have been taken not to select Kuggeleijn for New Zealand until his case was decided. If true, it is pretty obvious why they couldn't come out and say so.

All that could have been solved if they'd had a contract clause pertaining to an automatic stand-down if accused of a major offence. Their stance would have been clear.

However, that wouldn't cover the long list of NRL boofheads who have misbehaved and generally announced themselves as being about as smart as your average footstool without crossing the "serious" line.

Like Australia's Julian O'Neill, who vomited over the walls of a motel and defecated in the shoe of a team-mate in what became known as the "poo in the shoe" incident. He also drunkenly tried to set fire to a 13-year-old boy who was wearing a foam rubber dolphin mascot suit while on a river cruise.

Todd Carney was involved in three drink-provoked incidents in 18 months before the NRL finally refused to register him. Craig Gower infamously groped the teenage daughter of league legend Wayne Pearce, chased Pearce's son with a bottle before vomiting on him, streaked naked around a resort and totalled a golf cart in one notable rampage in 2005.

Mitchell Pearce (Wayne Pearce's same son) got trolleyed in 2016, pestering a woman for a kiss before urinating on the couch and simulating sex with a dog, serving only to highlight the deeper issues at play in the social psyche of some NRL players.

A contract enshrining an automatic ban not only gives the sports body a clear and ideal communications platform, it also puts players like those on notice that their career is not an inviolable gift.