Promote The Game

The IRB (International Rugby Board) will be rubbing their hands together contemplating the enormous income that’s they will receive from the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament currently under way in New Zealand. (At the same time the NZRFU [New Zealand Rugby Football Union] will be gnashing their teeth over the lack of income they will receive from the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Who’s fault is that? Surely it can only be the NZRFU’s!)

The IRB will be celebrating with the rugby watching public of New Zealand and The World over the fun results, the performance of most of the ‘minnows’ and, in general the quality of footy on display. The NZRFU will also be patting themselves on the back with the way the tournament is running- satisfactory crowds ALL of whom are well-behaved and having fun.

The IRB may not be quite so chirpy about the hiccups that have occurred that have taken a bit of the gloss off what should be a glowing show- heavy-handed bullying of local businesses who have (apparently) innocently infringed the rules of sponsorship, players’ after-hour revelries that should be a no-no, naughty tweeters who have been told not to but who think they’re above the restrictions, on-field cheating that is punished by wet bus-ticket slapping, and over the top punishments handed out to a couple of players who carry almost invisible non-official sponsorship on their mouth-guards ($10,000 fine each!!). Of course the IRB will have little problem in taking a ‘hands out’ position over these tournament problems by laying responsibility for dealing with such trivialities up to the NZRFU/Rugby World Cup Inc..

The IRB will probably be snorting at the fracas that have been caused by, at best the shortcomings, or at worst the displays of incompetence by some the referees controlling the games but will again shuffle responsibility for these issues sideways into the court of the International Referees Board.

So at the end of the day/tournament the International Rugby Board, over a few convivial drinks (Heineken?…or perhaps Dom Perignon) will congratulate themselves on another job well done, and move on to reviewing the laws to make sure they cater for the stodgey game played by some of the more influential/wealthy Northern Hemisphere countries (although, to their credit, some of the ‘smaller’ nations did stoop to quite a attractive running/passing game on occasions!) or restrict the mobility of most of the southern hemisphere nations, and to work towards commercial contracts that are more to do with television scheduling and sponsors’ imperatives than they are to do with benefiting The Game.

I have always suffered under the impression (now obviously illusion) that sports administration is there to nurture, foster and promote the game (netball, rugby, athletics, soccer, etc.) It is now my belief that various sports are very poorly served by their collective administrations. This can hold true at the very basest level with clubs becoming more and more susceptible to the whims of the few who are prepared to put in the time but becomes more obvious when at a provincial or national level, then reaching a self-serving rock-bottom with international bodies such as IRB (or ICC, IOC, FIFA, and others.) These closed and apparently self-serving societies have had the sight of their prime imperative clouded by the influence of the mighty $$$. Professionalism has done little for the various sports than made them a trade that now generations of sportsmen and women have been able to make a healthy living from. Neither have the lesser nations gained from the advent of the professional game even though individual players from these countries have travelled to take up contracts in foreign lands. This doesn’t grow the game to the extent that I believe the international administration has a responsibility to do. I can cite the New Zealand national rugby team as an example. It is one of the most visible rugby teams in the world, and is even recognised by many who have little or no interest in the game. The All Blacks are a team that could be a boon to the growth of the game if only they were used as wider-ranging ambassadors. The World Olympic Champions in rugby are the United States but to my knowledge the All Blacks have never played a test in the States and neither have the All Blacks toured there. They have a following, especially among the universities of the Western US and with the success of The Eagles, the US rugby team in tournaments such as the World Cup and the ‘Sevens’ there is a ready market for the game to grow. All that would be required would be for the contact-sport loving spectator-dominated US public to see the stars of International Rugby teams performing live.

The same applies in many other nations of the world where rugby is played as a much more minor sport in soccer dominated countries, Central and Middle European the most obvious but also Asian and the once ‘Iron Curtain’ states. My Club Captain from WAY back went to Europe and Russia on business on a regular basis and he once told us, in the early 70s that when he was in Moscow he was told there were as many club rugby players in that city as there were in New Zealand. You would expect a country with such a player resource would be fairly active on the international scene, but this is certainly not the case. This is another country that has never seen the All Blacks. The All Black international involvement has been pretty much confined to IRB countries (no, not all countries are represented on this august body!) If we went through the list of participants at this year’s Rugby World Cup I am sure that the countries who have had tours by the All Blacks or who have played full Test Matches against them (outside the Rugby World Cup tournament) would be significantly less than those who deserve to have. I have singled out the All Blacks, but to varying degrees the same holds true for all of the other Test-Playing Nations of the IRB. And so I say the IRB are not fulfilling their role in promoting and growing the game world-wide. They should!!

Something that could help some of these underprivileged rugby nations is for the IRB to be convinced to extend their membership to include representatives from those countries on their Council. If you believe they should do this, you can put your name to an on-line petition that calls for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to have a seat at the Council table as of right. Perhaps then these nations, and others who have largely been ignored by the IRB and the BIG BOYS of international rugby can get a fairer deal and the game can grow in those countries and not just by exporting their players to points around the globe, away from home, family and hardly benefiting the game ‘back in the homeland’.

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