Sex scandal costs ex-footballer job

SYDNEY: Former Australia international and popular rugby league personality Matthew Johns lost his television and coaching jobs on Wednesday because of his reported involvement in a group sex incident with a fan in New Zealand in 2002.

The nearly weeklong furore over the behavior of one of the sport's most popular identities during a tour with his Australian National Rugby League club seven years ago has triggered another crisis for the scandal-plagued sport.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday screened a television interview with a woman who said Johns and some of his former Cronulla Sharks teammates took part in the sex incident in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch.

The woman, who declined to be identified, told the ABC's Four Corners programme Johns and another player took her to their hotel room in Christchurch. She said over the next two hours, up to 12 players or club staff entered the room and six of them participated in sex acts with the woman.

The woman, who was 19 at the time, made a formal complaint five days later to Christchurch police, who traveled to Australia to interview all 40 Cronulla players and staff involved in the trip. No charges were laid.

The woman told the ABC she had suffered post traumatic stress disorder and had attempted suicide in the years after the incident.

After being approached by Four Corners for comment before the programme went to air, Johns made a statement last week on the Nine's The Footy Show, which he co-hosts.

Johns mentioned "an incident that was investigated by police" that "put my family through enormous anguish and embarrassment ...

and for that I'm just ... well you can't say sorry enough." He has not directly addressed the allegations publicly.

Johns on Wednesday met with top executives of the Nine Network, which airs the popular weekly The Footy Show.

Nine said after the meeting that Johns had been stood down indefinitely from all on-air commitments.

Chief executive David Gyngell said the decision to suspend Johns was by mutual agreement "and in the best interests of the Nine Network, the game and its supporters, Matthew Johns and his family." "The fact is, whatever the arguments about the details of the New Zealand incident involving Cronulla players in 2002, the conduct and its aftermath was simply unacceptable," Gyngell said in a statement.

Of Johns, he said: "He knows better than anyone that this incident has placed him in untenable position." The statement said Johns had apologised to the woman.

Johns also lost the support of the Melbourne Storm club, which announced Wednesday it was suspending Johns' part-time coaching contract because of the incident.

National Rugby League chief David Gallop also apologised to the New Zealand woman and said a "massive question mark" hung over Johns' future in the game, which has been rattled by a series of sex and public drunkenness scandals involving some of its most popular players.

Gallop said education programmes and guidelines for players would be strengthened and warned there would be no tolerance for players who engaged in such "degrading ... appalling" behaviour.

Nine's Gyngell said he fully endorsed Gallops comments "concerning the indefensible conduct of some players and the lack of respect for women and the critical focus on all stakeholders to help eradicate it from our game." "I join with him in extending my apologies and sympathy to the young woman involved in the incident, who clearly is still distressed as a consequence," he said.

Johns' younger brother Andrew Johns, a former Australia halfback and widely considered among the greatest rugby league players of the modern era, hit the headlines in 2007 when he admitted he'd used drugs and struggled with depression during his career.