Rugby Thoughts – Can we believe?

Simon Barnes wrote a good article in the Spectator blog saying that “This could be the year that sport dies of corruption.” Obviously he talks about the issues with FIFA, athletics and tennis. But how alive is rugby looking?

I have talked about governance previously in light of the salary cap breaches that were finally decided as not having happened. This isn’t about if they did or didn’t happen but that the question was asked. Every time the integrity of the game is questioned our belief or trust is chipped away. As the old saying goes “where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

If you ask Tier 2, and especially pacific island supporters, if they have faith in the system providing a fair playing field, the answer will be no. In the last 12 months we have had people questioning the inequality of funding, treatment of players by the judiciary, release of players and eligibility of players for example.

Is rugby suffering from the same level of questioning as the three sports mentioned in the opening to this article? Clearly not but it is better and cheaper to prevent something than it is to try to fix it afterwards. You only have to look at the treatment of Chris Froome in the Tour De France to see how hard and long it takes to fix a sport’s reputation.

Equally anyone who thinks that everything in rugby is ok, needs to think again. Added to the issues already mentioned there are concerns about player welfare with concussion and doping. If you think that doping isn’t an issue then just read the comment left on my recent review of RFU’s Anit-Doping report.

The point that I’m trying to make is that we need strong governance of rugby to protect our belief and trust in the sport. Administrators need that to be their number one priority and check every decision they make is towards that goal. Yes they also need to increase the revenue to pay for the sport and grow it globally. There will be another whole host of details that they need to take care of day-to-day. However they need to remind themselves everyday that they are the custodians of the sport for future generations, not just the profit line today.

It is going to be interesting to see what impact the new rules for the composition of the World Rugby Council has. These don’t come into effect until after the May council meeting and we will have to wait and see who qualifies for how many seats. Potentially there will be a greater representation of Tier 2 nations but if they will have enough numbers to effect change only time will tell.

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