Caroline Wilson has taken aim at a number of AFL stars for bringing their bushfire relief efforts into the debate about pay cuts.
AFL legend Leigh Matthews led a chorus of criticism on Tuesday when he said he had lost respect for the players after they offered to take just a 50 per cent pay cut during the coronavirus shutdown.
League bosses asked the players to take a bigger cut, but they were reportedly unwilling to do so.
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Defending themselves in the face of criticism, star players Jack Riewoldt, Tom Rockliff and Patrick Dangerfield all argued they didn’t deserve to be slammed, especially considering their efforts to raise money for bushfire victims earlier this year.
But according to outspoken journalist Wilson, that stance is below the belt.
“This arrow is directed at whoever it was at the Players Association who advised AFL footballers to use their participation in that Bushfire Relief game as a selfless act,” Wilson said on Footy Classified on Wednesday night.
If you actually believe that what you did is a sacrificial act, then you live in a bigger bubble than I thought."
Caro slams the players who have portrayed their participation in the Bushfire Relief match as 'selfless act'. #9FootyClassified | Watch @Channel9 pic.twitter.com/EU0sePxphE
— Footy on Nine (@FootyonNine) March 25, 2020
“Oh please! Sure, it was a great event and a lot of players gave up their time, as many did, to raise money for a critical cause, but Jack, and it pains me to say this, you are my favourite player, but bodies on the line? This was a fun, bruise-free kick 'n' giggle.
“I would've thought to do so much good at a critical time was a privilege. And a gift. And whoever it is, if you actually believe that what you did was a sacrificial act, then you live in a bigger bubble than I thought, and what a pity you have used such a wonderful thing as a bargaining tool in a PR battle you are losing so badly.”
AFL players ‘losing the PR battle’
When defending the players, Richmond star Riewoldt said on AFL 360: “We’ve only got to go back maybe three weeks ago, and 45 to 50 of the best players of the game put their hand up and said ‘we will help Australia raise $8 million and put our bodies on the line’, which we do for a job and we love doing it but we will do that, for what we want to do. We want to be a part of helping people that have been through bushfires.”
Rockliff echoed that sentiment on SEN, saying: “I think Jack Riewoldt spoke about the bushfire relief, but AFL players are really generous and give up a lot throughout that period when they're in the game as well.”
As for Dangerfield - President of the Players Association - he told SEN: “We had players that do an incredible amount of work within the community. Only six weeks ago there was $8 million fundraised from players playing in the bushfire relief game. Every year we donate over half a million dollars from our care fund.”
Earlier on Wednesday, St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt said the players are losing the public relations battle in their pay negotiations with the AFL and need to commit to what's best for the game.
Last Tuesday when the AFL reduced the regular season to 17 games - before suspending it altogether on Sunday - the AFLPA pushed to retain a 22-game fixture.
Riewoldt said that stance was “a bit of a PR mess” and now was the time for players to work with the AFL to do “whatever the game needs.”
“When the AFL came with 17 games, it was a time to just - unprecedented - just acquiesce to the AFL's request,” Riewoldt said on Fox Footy Live.
“Just say 'we'll do whatever the AFL needs us to do' .... you've got to pick your battles and the players and the players' association, when the CBA's up, they'll pick those fights and they're well entitled to do so.
“But I just think this time, this was the time to acquiesce, to play nice and to go along.”
The premiership season was suspended until at least May 31 on Sunday in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
With a revenue hit of between $500 million and $1 billion expected, the league quickly made deep cuts to its workforce.
About 80 per cent of employees at league headquarters and at the 18 clubs were stood down without pay on Monday.