St Kilda’s board has gone against the wishes of its players and all but ended the 268 game career of Stephen Milne as he fights rape charges.
It has the support of the AFL Commission, but not its players nor the Players Association.
The Saints board met on Tuesday night to discuss the crisis and again on Wednesday morning after police had charged Milne with four counts of rape.
In announcing an “indefinite” leave of absence for 33-year-old Milne, club president Greg Westaway said the board had considered “the best interests of all parties concerned”.
“The board acknowledges this is a most serious matter, one that is distressing to all the parties involved,” Westaway said.
“It also recognises that the extended timeframe of the matter and the complexities of the issues involved, make it without precedent.
“In considering the matter the board has been mindful of the rights and obligations of everyone impacted.”
Regardless of Milne’s guilt or innocence, age and form could well determine whether the two-time All-Australian plays again in the AFL.
Milne is due to face court on July 5 and a full trial date is yet to be set, but it is expected to many months before his defence is prepared to proceed.
While he remains on the Saints’ playing list, he is 33 and out of contract at the end of this season. Milne supporters told the Herald Sun today he wants to play again by round 15 against Fremantle. How his club and the AFL handle that prospect remains to be seen.
The AFL said last night it supports the actions of the club.
“This is a very serious matter,’” AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said.
“The AFL welcomes the decision to subject the allegations to legal scrutiny as no player is above the law.
“The AFL acknowledges the importance of the presumption of innocence in this case and also the need to treat the complainant with respect and understanding.
“In addition to the actions taken by the club, the AFL will monitor the case and reserves the right to take action under its rules in the event of further information coming to light, or any further developments.
“Further, the AFL has determined that there will be a restriction placed on Milne’s AFL and Club promotional and development duties.”
While the Saints met with senior league officials on Tuesday, privately they are insisting it was their decision alone to suspend Milne.
Milne was charged following a re-opened Victorian Police investigation into an alleged incident a few days before the start of the 2004 season.
Milne was at training on Wednesday morning and long-time teammates Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo made it clear they wanted him to keep playing.
Riewoldt and Dal Santo both celebrate their 250th games on Saturday against Melbourne.
“Milney is the absolute heart and soul of the football club and everyone knows how passionate he is and what the football club in particular means to him,” Riewoldt told SEN radio.
“If he feels like he can contribute and he can put it to the side and go out for two hours, which he’s stated unequivocally that he’s going to be able to do, and he wants to do, then I think that’s where it should stay.”
Dal Santo had also hoped Milne would play against the Demons.
“He’s a quality person and we support him fully, and it’d be great to have him out there,” Dal Santo said.
But Riewoldt acknowledged that others would starkly disagree with their enthusiasm for Milne to stay in the side.
“Certainly I understand because this a difficult time for everyone,” he said.
The Saints indefinitely suspended Andrew Lovett on Christmas Eve 2009 after it emerged he was under police investigation and sacked him two months later when he was charged with rape.
More than a year later he was acquitted, but by that stage his AFL career was over.
With the AFL and the club united in their position, the AFL Payer’s Association took the side of its members.
Players’ union boss Matt Finnis suggested the club put the interests of its brand before the interests of its player.
”The AFL Players’ Association is deeply concerned by the decision announced by the St Kilda board this afternoon regarding an imposed leave of absence on Stephen Milne,” he said.
”We don’t consider the decision genuinely reflects a commitment to a player and his family as much as it does other interests of a club.”
Melbourne media reported today that initial meetings on Tuesday between St Kilda and its players led them to believe the goal sneak would be playing, with the support of coach Scott Watters.
When Milne ran onto the training track yesterday morning he thought he would be playing on Saturday.
After training he was told he was being placed on indefinite leave.
– with AAP
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