OPINION: De Goey should not play, until case is settled

When Collingwood and Geelong last met, back in Round 7 of this topsy-turvy 2020 AFL season, Magpies coach Nathan Buckley inserted Jordan De Goey into the forward line and De Goey repaid Buckley’s faith in him by pacing Collingwood to a 22-point win over the Cats with kicking a game-best five goals.

That match occurred on Thursday, July 16th.

Less than two weeks before that match, De Goey was formally charged over an alleged indecent assault, assumed to be of a sexual nature, that appeared to have occurred in 2015.

And as Collingwood and Geelong prepare to do battle on Saturday night in a semi-final match at the Gabba with the Brisbane Lions awaiting the winner at the preliminary final stage, many fans and observers have maintained that De Goey should not have been playing over the last three-plus months while he and another male await a pre-trial hearing on October 30.

And while all Australians are considered innocent before proven guilty before the law, Buckley needs to show faith in De Goey again – only this time, to not select him for the remainder of the finals, so he can focus on arguing for his innocence and freedom.

While many fans argue that De Goey playing while these charges and allegations hang over his head send the wrong message – particularly as to set an example for younger fans – that the charges over De Goey’s actions need to be taken more seriously than they appear to have been, the Collingwood Football Club and its president, Eddie McGuire, claim to have taken a proactive stance to prove that justice is blind.

Collingwood and McGuire maintain that they went through the proper channels in 2018 by encouraging and seeing through an investigation on De Goey’s behalf through the AFL Integrity Unit and Victoria Police, dual investigations which concluded that no charges needed to be laid at that time.

“This is something we’re all invested in and we take absolutely seriously,” McGuire said last month on Footy Classified, a show which he co-hosts on the Nine Network.

“To ensure the matter was investigated independently and appropriately, in early 2018, the Collingwood Football Club handed the allegation from 2015 over to the AFL Integrity Unit and through them, made the police aware of the allegation.

“The individual was also encouraged to contact the police. The issue was resolved in 2018, seemingly to the satisfaction of everyone involved,” McGuire added.

Still, as cold cases can be thawed out with the discovery of new evidence, the charges were laid in early July, because Victoria Police justifiably found evidence which would have warranted such actions to be taken against De Goey.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Swans – in contrast and comparison to Collingwood and the De Goey case – took an even more proactive approach in standing down Elijah Taylor over an aggravated assault incident while the Swans were located in their West Australian hub. It was a case where Taylor’s then-girlfriend was allegedly involved as the victim. Sydney’s move was done voluntarily, citing a legal process that needed to be played out, and was ultimately justified when Taylor pleaded guilty to the charges a fortnight later.

The AFL, it needs to be said, supported both Collingwood and Sydney in each of the clubs’ respective cases, as different as they are.

However, Gillon McLachlan, the CEO of the AFL, has been consistent with one direct message.

“Violence against women in any form is abhorrent and we strongly condemn it,” he said after the closure on Taylor’s case.

“Our view is clear and unequivocal – violence against women is never OK in any circumstance, ever,” McLachlan added.

Respect women, believe women – messages which in the context of these two incidents, possess a big, loud, resounding bellring to them, and not just the lip service that the AFL has allegedly paid in the past on issues regarding women.

Whereas that can be seen as a turning point in the AFL’s stances on sexual assault matters and its relations on women’s issues in general, even more can be done. Particularly when rival sporting codes have beaten them to setting the standard.

Last year, the NRL introduced its own no-fault stand-down policy, which gave its clubs the ability to stand down any player, on full pay, accused of serious criminal charges to allow them the focus and attention to deal with them.

It was also introduced on the premise to protect the integrity of the NRL’s brand – set in standards of further protection of the game’s image, interests and welfare.

And wouldn’t those be values that would be near and dear to the AFL’s heart as well?

The NRL’s decision to invoke its policy was tested and justified when Jack De Belin was stood down by the St George-Illawarra Dragons for two years over five charges of alleged aggravated sexual assault.

De Belin is due to face trial on those charges in November.

So if the NRL’s due process works, why hasn’t the AFL adopted a similar policy?

Both McLachlan and McGuire have said that while the AFL has debated instituting the official policy in the past – whereas now it is purely voluntary, as seen in Sydney’s case with Taylor – they claim that they need to iron out some logistical concerns central to the league’s application of the policy before they can proceed forward.

“Our policy is focused on the complainant and the centre, and we treat every case on its merits and they’re all different and after that it’s difficult to say,” McLachlan said on Fox Footy’s AFL360 program last month.

“…We have to develop, or can we develop, a framework or policy that allows the game and its clubs to respect victims, but to also respect the legal right of the presumption of innocence and reflect the standards and expectations of the communities we live and play in, and ultimately deliver a just outcome,” McGuire concurs.

“Our game should never intrude on the role of the courts, but we should be mature enough to have a conversation about a response, obligation to when matters of criminal nature arise,” McGuire added.

Moreover, there exists the logistical nature of the De Goey case when it comes to jurisprudence.

If the Magpies were to beat the Cats on Saturday night, then beat Brisbane the following week in a preliminary final, and then beat the survivor between any among Richmond, St Kilda and Port Adelaide in the grand final on October 24th, that leaves six days before De Goey and his co-defendant are to face the pre-trial hearing on their charges, with no quarantine interval required into Victoria from Queensland.