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Football and Rugby Union – some random thoughts

Throughout its time the Rust’s sports coverage has consistently followed the progress of the sports of football and rugby union.

It occurred to me recently that there are certain ironies and issues running through both these sports – some shared and some not.

Recently England’s football Premier League – the richest in the world – announced a new TV deal with Sky Sports and TNT Sports (covering 2025 to 2029) worth some £6.7 billion as part of which – outside the Saturday 3.00pm blackout – every single Premiership match will be shown live on TV: Sky will be showing at least 215 of them and TNT Sport 52.

On a wider level – as someone who by both choice and force of circumstance watches most of his sport on TV – it seems to me that, when one adds in the club European Cup competitions and the various friendly, qualifying and then European and/or World level international football games that take place, the average UK football fan already has close to a surfeit of top football to watch every week.

Further, when we are contemplating a future in which our forward-thinking scientists predict that artificial intelligent (AI) robots will soon be able to do practically all forms of work that a human can do (and do it better). When, in addition, one day every human being will probably receive – as a matter of his/her human rights – a “living wage” [let us take for the sake of this example at current rates £50,000 per annum], in return for which, de facto, they will barely need to do more than lift the hand and finger that it might take them to order their choice of “takeaway meal” for the day/evening and then tune their television to the correct channel to view their choice of accompanying football coverage, it is arguable that, if not all, most of us are going to be living a pretty unedifying lives.

In many ways, at the moment, rugby union seems to be floundering.

The English Premiership club competition has suffered the loss of three clubs completely through going bust in the past 18 months and is rumoured to have at least four more suffering potential or actual financial hardship.

The English governing body, the much-criticised RFU, has itself recently announced dreadful financial results whilst anecdotal evidence widely has it that at all levels below the Championship (the English second professional tier) the community/amateur game is in dire, if not already terminal, straights.

Both football and rugby have a head injury (concussion-related, potentially leading to early-dementia) problem that just isn’t going to go away, although the latter’s is significantly more acute because of the very nature of the game, as witness the 250-plus former players now mounting a group legal action against the administering authorities.

Both games also have issues with the application of video technology designed to assist their on-field referees and linesmen/women.

This development arrived in sport generally with the best of intentions aimed at improving the quality of officials’ decisions [what was there not to like about that?] but – perhaps inevitably – in practice the rules and practices surrounding the new technology, both in the video suite and out on the field, have variously and glaringly on occasions created more problems, issues and controversies than they have solved.

The average sports punter, whether partisan or neutral – both at home, and (worse) actually at the ground in person – is becoming confused, irritated and frustrated, not just (as might be expected) at the human error/inconsistency of referee decisions but also (often) at the video evidence that is made available for all to see which appears to show that the officials got vital, game-changing decisions absolutely wrong.

It occurs to me that – at a time when more and more “live” TV coverage is being made available for punters to watch (and one day in the future, presumably, all sport will be available to all people “at a price”) –  there is a growing body of evidence that elite players of both football and rugby are reaching the point at which for their own long-term health, not just at which they should be playing no more games than they do already, but in which perhaps they should be playing far LESS often.

I suspect, but am not sure, that the football world – with its greater financial clout – has less of a problem with this issue because its top clubs can afford to retain large numbers of playing staff. Elite rugby cannot afford such player numbers and its physicality inflicts a significantly bigger toll upon player fitness and indeed injury recovery times.

Lastly and to finish: I wonder whether there is a degree to which the importance of international football and rugby is “losing out” to the dominance of the elite club version of football and rugby across the board.



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About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts