Rothfield vs Rugby League

Is the sports editor of one of Australia's largest paper's waging a vindictive war on the NRL for a personal agenda?


Picture credit: League Unlimited

Most, if not all rugby league fans will know who Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield is. For those who don’t he’s the sports ‘editor-at-large’ over at Sydney’s most prominent newspaper, The Daily Telegraph and despite being paid a handsome sum, in excess of $320,000 per year to cover rugby league, he’s a man seemingly so hell-bent on dragging the game down to spite those who run it that he can no longer be bothered trying to hide his agenda.

Rothfield is not alone in an apparent crusade to damage the game that has rewarded him so much, but he is far and away one of the main protagonists in what has become a fight between those in charge of the game, Todd Greenberg’s ‘talk the game up’ approach and Rothfield and companies desperate need to tear the game down with every stroke of a keyboard.

Caught somewhere in the middle are your average fans who just want to watch the football.

The back story

Full disclosure, Phil Rothfield and I have some history. A couple of years ago we engaged in what began as a bit of banter on Twitter. It quickly devolved into name calling (by both sides) and expletives. When your scribe happened to question the approach of a sports editor who felt the need to slip into his direct messages and drop a handful of misspelled comments, Buzz responded by calling the governing body which covered a football club I used to work for and demanding I be sacked.

Long story short, I wasn’t sacked. Those tasked with handing out a ‘warning’ did so with much mirth and bemusement that the situation had escalated to this and that a man who has been in sports journalism for over forty years would have such thin skin.

Perhaps understandably, we’ve blocked each other on Twitter and moved on. I don’t like the man and, if he even remembers me, I’m sure he doesn’t like me.
My concern at his growing tirade though, does not come from a place of dislike merely for the man behind the words, but why he feels so compelled to drum up a scare tactic so see-through and flimsy and call on mates like Tony Adams (aka The Mole) and Dean ‘Bulldog’ Ritchie to join in and attempt to stoke a fire that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist.

At the very best, there are a few flames, started by the Telegraph and others and these chief arsonists are throwing every accelerant they can onto the pile in a desperate attempt to tear down what is a beautiful and unique sporting code.
Perhaps the best example of ‘facts’ being twisted to fit an argument revolves around the sin bin. Last year, writers like Rothfield decried the sin bin was dead and referees didn’t have the guts to send people for a 10-minute spell on the sideline.

This year, when the swing has been dramatically the other way, there are too many sin-binnings and the referees are ruining the game by blowing the whistle too much.

Nobody will ever profess to love the referees, but they can’t win. Either way, people like Rothfield use their actions and approach to game management as a stick to beat the game about the head.

Not-so social media

Rothfield’s Twitter account makes for some grim reading. Should you feel the need and have not suffered the dreaded block, you’ll find consistent digs at the game and a barrage of retweets when he finds an agreeable voice amongst the mass of replies deriding his death-riding of the league.

The venerable editor-in-chief suggests TV ratings are down, but has no response when it’s pointed out to him that while Channel Nine figures are indeed down, there has been a significant upswing in pay television viewing figures, easy to understand given the far slicker and ad-free coverage Foxtel offers up in response.

That Foxtel’s figures are on the rise despite consistently pairing Steve Roach and Matt Nable in the commentary box should act alone as a testament to the strength and following of our sport.

It’s only a little over a month ago that Rothfield felt the need to tweet that rugby league “is now a shit game.” That the tweet came just 24 hours after his beloved Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks were routed 40-20 by the rampant Dragons may or may not have been a coincidence.

No one is suggesting the media or people who pen their thoughts about the game need to act as unquestioning cheerleaders. Being critical and holding to account those in power is literally the best part of the fourth estate that is media and journalism. That said, heedlessly attacking the game that has brought you much prosperity purely because you don’t like the bloke in charge makes you look like a petty, vindictive, small person.

Do you think mainstream media like The Daily Telegraph and Phil Rothfield are taking shots at the game needlessly? Let us know in the comments below.

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