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After the virus – or fiddling while Rome burns

In these uncertain times it is inevitable that occasionally one’s thoughts turn to the future and specifically how things might – or will – be once “normality” has returned.

Admittedly the concept does have its complications – whose “normality” are we talking about?

Many I speak to seemed to be semi-convinced that this is really it – the world has had a massive “walk up call”, will now get a grip upon itself, take every existential issue facing mankind seriously … re-set … and change for the better.

Others are not so sure.

A sizable proportion take the view firstly, that once the virus has blown through – and that may potentially include a “second wave” of the pandemic or similar – and secondly, all the fanciful Millennial “woke” generation luvvie-duvvie bluster has run its course, life (and business) in the various forms it had reached by the end of 2019 will simply return and carry on.

(Okay, granted perhaps with some minor alterations, but nothing significant).

Personally, I’m in the camp that some major changes are coming – purely because of the absurd direction in which matters in some sports were moving are in dire need of being reviewed, analysed and reassessed.

My setting-off point today is an overview by Dave Coverdale of where female sport has got to under the UK lockdown, as appears today upon the website of the – DAILY MAIL

My sport of special interest is rugby union whose administration and governance at both national and international level – in the quarter of a century since its elite forms embraced professionalism – has proved itself to be woefully short-sighted, inept, inexpert and illogical, not to mention to all intents and purposes lacking any sense of practical reality, leadership and/or collective vision.

Let me add the caveat that I don’t level these charges against rugby union exclusively – I’m sure that to one degree or another a majority of observers, fans and adherents of every major sport with a global reach (or pretensions to have same one day) would have similar views to mine.

It might be glib but appropriate to suggest that the fundamental problems facing major sports are always somehow tied up in the unimpeachable integrity – or otherwise – of their world body administrators; the potential for cheating, corruption, dubious morality; the popularity of the sport and the extraordinary amounts of money sloshing around the system and potentially available to clubs, managers, players, agents, hangers-on and boards of management; and finally, and ultimately, everything that  could possibly come under the heading “vested interests”.

The English rugby premiership is a case in point.

It has created itself a huge centralised and well-paid bureaucracy for itself and a mountain of rules and regulations supposedly governing every aspect of administering the sport at elite level including player welfare – all, not to put too fine a point on it, self-administered … and badly.

Put bluntly, stereotypically the Premiership clubs rely almost exclusively upon being owned by rugby enthusiast business tycoons and financiers who then pour unending amounts of ‘good money after bad’ in the pursuit of their hobby and glory in the form of silverware at home and in Europe.

A salary cap of a kind, with provision on top for two ‘marquee players’ allowed outside it, has been in place for a while now – and from its first inception has been routinely played fast and loose with, simply because the policing of the rules upon salaries (designed to maintain some sort of ‘level playing field’) has been paper-bag weak and ineffectual.

Barely a club has not got its hands dirty in this respect and the humiliation of Saracens – who perhaps deserved it more than most because of the brazenness of their practices – came as almost a surprise after so many seasons of rumour and counter-rumour.

A telling fact mentioned in Lord Myners’ damning recent report was that whereas not so long ago there were but three Premiership players earning in excess of £300,000 per annum, now there are within touching distance of 100 doing so.

It’s all madness and a farce.

Now the clubs are splitting into those who feel they ought to accept the Myners’ Report recommendations en masse (as the good lord has insisted should happen) and those who reject the bulk of them and seem to want to ‘carry on as before’ – which means firstly, that those whose owners have the deepest pockets will win most of the gongs and, secondly, that as a group the Premiership clubs will continue to lose collectively in the region of £50 million per annum.

Things are little better at the World Rugby level, where (thanks to the votes of the ‘old guard First Tier (Northern Hemisphere) countries’) the safe, status quo-supporting England legend Bill Beamount has just been re-elected as chairman for a second term and thereby all movement towards radical and far-reaching new thinking has been consigned to the bin.

Rugby union’s biggest problem is that it attracts sufficient sponsorship and broadcasting revenue to allow its administrators to fantasise about becoming a global sport similar to football – and yet that is never going to happen.

Yet it doesn’t stop those running the sport from expanding their empires and paying themselves salaries nearly as high as those available in football, presumably on the basis that these constitute the “going market rate” for top sports administrators … and that if you don’t shell out the big wads of cash, you tend to get monkeys.

That works fine as a principle – that is, until you hire monkeys and then play them big wads of cash.


About Sandra McDonnell

As an Englishwoman married to a Scot, Sandra experiences some tension at home during Six Nations tournaments. Her enthusiasm for rugby was acquired through early visits to Fylde club matches with her father and her proud boast is that she has missed only two England home games at Twickenham since 1995. Sandra has three grown-up children, none of whom follow rugby. More Posts