It's almost 20 years since France were awarded the 1998 World Cup finals by FIFA. Part of their bid was a promise to build a “state-of-the-art” stadium in Paris.
You don't need me to tell you that the French, particularly the Parisians, take pride in their architecture. So it would be safe to say that those in charge of getting the stadium built were not only rewarded handsomely for the project, the kudos from it also surely led to plenty of future work.
A bit of weekend online research has led me to believe that somewhere along the line in the planning of the stadium, it must have been brought to the attention of the “brains trust” that since the chosen site lay on the grounds of an old gasworks, it would be extremely dangerous to install undersoil heating.
Please note that the words “grounds of an old gasworks” makes me sorely tempted to go reaching for Scooby Doo references...if you knew me you'd appreciate how hard it is for me to stay on the serious subject matter!
Although I'm not an architect, I've still been at many a meeting and I'm pretty sure that at some stage in 1992 there was one where the decision was taken to go ahead and build the thing without the heating or alternatively, find a site with less explosive issues. Somebody had to actually make that call.
Ultimately, THAT is the person to blame for what happened on Saturday night in Paris. Because if there had been undersoil heating, there would have been a match, and I'd have actual rugby to write about this morning. In actual fact, they had a similar scare for one of the first games played in the stadium though that eventually went ahead.
But of course I live in the real world, and despite the fact that so many Irish fans were put out of pocket by the late decision, the decision-maker I refer to will never be named, let alone sought after for recompense.
Of course we must look at those involved when we place blame, but I just wanted to illustrate who is actually behind it all. And ok, fine, I also wanted the novelty of using the name of a cartoon character on my rugby blog.
So...who were the principal culprits in this Stade de Farce?
- The IRB – the sport's overall governing body. By rights, they should be responsible for anything and everything to do with the sport, but although they “came out in support” of the decision to postpone, that's a lot different to actually taking responsibility.
- Dave Pearson – Irish fans would of course love to take a pop at him! The man seems to be colour blind – not only could he not distinguish between red and yellow in the Aviva Stadium, seemingly white and green are hard to tell apart when it comes to a pitch! But seriously...I make him merely a bit player in this drama.
- Kidney & St Andre – Much like the committee meeting from two decades ago I refer to above, we can only speculate what was said at that on-pitch conflab between the two coaches and the officials, though the word seems to be that Kidney wanted it called off while his French counterpart was leaning the other way. Whether player safety was the true consideration of either coach we'll never know.
- France Télévisions – the French answer to Auntie Beeb, who have the rights to the Six Nations all the way to 2017, must surely have had a hand in the decision to play this match at the ludicrous local time of 9pm in February.
- Six Nations Ltd – now we're getting closer to the top of the responsibility pyramid. This practically-masonic organisation is based in Dublin yet puts very little information about itself online, even on the official RBS Six Nations website. Perhaps their aim is to adjudicate over the tournament itself without being anywhere to be seen when serious answers are sought? Now they did put out an official statement shifting the blame to both the FFR and Pearson but in my book it raised as many questions as it answered.
- FFR – I used to manage a sports shop. Whenever a customer bought a pair of runners there and they turned out to be faulty, they brought them back to me. And that made sense. Maybe the real folks to blame were Nike, or the manufacturers of the glue that held on the sole or maybe even the poorly-paid factory workers in South-East Asia who did the stitching. But from the customers' point of view, they bought them in my shop so it was up to me to deal with them and pass on the blame on my own time, not theirs. Same goes for the FFR with this match. The home union must be held responsible when it comes to compensating fans, and I would expect no less of the IRFU if the same thing happened in Dublin.
Now...we are clear that it's the fans who are the ones to be considered here as hard done by, right?
Because I wouldn't be so sure when I look at the media over the weekend. There seemed to be a lot of concern over the perceived tragedy of professional sportsmen playing – wait for it – FOUR MATCHES IN FOUR WEEKS!!!! To use a uniquely Irish phrase : “would ye get away outta that!!!”
Another misconception people seem to have is that the fans wanted the match to go ahead even with the frozen pitch. Many have gleefully posted gory pictures of their own various injuries incurred by playing in such conditions. Eh, nobody with an ounce of common sense is suggesting the match should ever have gone ahead.
No...what went wrong in Paris was the protocols in place, or should I say the lack thereof.
See, we mere mortals don't think about such things until after they happen, and now that they have, all I can ask myself is this : Why not inspect the pitch at least 48 hrs before the match AT THE PLANNED KICKOFF TIME (not 4pm the day before and 7pm the day of the match as what happened) then make a definitive decision that also takes weather forecasts into account? Plus – shouldn't EVERY major sporting fixture have a sensible alternative date scheduled in advance just in case?
But instead, it came down to a last-minute decision - the match was called off as the brass band were on the pitch ready to no doubt make an absolute hames of Ireland's Call like every other country does.
And it's not like there isn't recent precedent. Originally, the alternative date for the fixture was Friday, March 2nd. This was even more bizarre for two reasons...one, it was yet another night-time kickoff, and two, Leinster were already scheduled to play in Aironi that night and some fans would have had tickets for both matches (it was pointed out to me that these travelling numbers are relatively small, though I'm not sure what that has to do with anything).
But with an almost sinister irony, Aironi were due to play Munster, also in Viadana, last Sunday. Guess what – they found themselves with a frozen pitch during the week. And guess what – they actually HAD the stones to postpone the fixture.
Of course, the numbers to attend the Pro12 fixture were nothing compared to those attending the Six Nations one. But that's my point. The delay in the Paris decision was clearly down to fear of losing money. So rather than employ basic logic they let the fans travel, spend their hard-earned Euros in Paris, then feck off home without having seen a match. But at “least” they have the “re-assurance” that once they retained their ticket (and though many were at pains to tell me they always keep theirs, we're talking about 80,000 people here and even if only a handful chucked their ticket, in my book they're still entitled to a refund due to the late announcement), they won't have to pay for a new one for the rematch whenever it may be (though at least it won't be a Friday night now by all accounts).
There's not only the Irish travelling fans to consider. Rugby in France, as we all know, is primarily popular around the southern coast, so no doubt many made the not-insignificant journey north to see the match and will be equally pissed off by their more metropolitan fellow countrymen.
So to summarise...this blog will always consider the fans' well-being as of the utmost importance in rugby matters like these. It's a professional game now, and this means that it can be nothing without those same fans. And the ones who are willing to shell out good money to follow their heroes from Ireland to Paris and/or Viadana should be treated like royalty, yet by the events of the past week, they have been barely treated like peasants.
I'll be waiting for some kind of assurance that not only will the fans from Saturday night be properly looked after, but also that plans will be put in place for “Le Shambles” not to happen again. I have a feeling there are rugby pitches in hell which will freeze over first. JLP
ALSO LAST WEEKEND...
FRANCE U20s 12-13 IRELAND U20s
Didn’t see all of it, but what I did see was a monumental display from Mike Ruddock's men, particularly on defence. Lansdowne's Foster Horan got the game's only try early in the 2nd half and it was down to JJ Hanrahan to kick the winning pen. The French seem to have crossed at the death but the ref went upstairs and the TMO found it inconclusive. Super result for the Wolfpuppies!
ITALY 15-19 ENGLAND
For the 2nd week in a row the reigning champions go into a Six Nations match with little more than Owen Farrell's boot and a solid defence and come out narrowly on top. Italy went into the break 15-6 to the good after two fine tries but their lack of a decent 10 cost them dear and once again Hodgson got a try back from a blocked clearance. I doubt the Twickenham crowd would welcome this display.
FRANCE 8-7 IRELAND (Women)
WALES 27-13 SCOTLAND
For me this match was decided either side of half time. The valiant Scots had 20+ phases to snap a 3-3 deadlock to no avail before the break. Then a horrible error by Cusiter off 2nd half kickoff gave Wales attacking ball which they punished with a Cuthbert try. Then came a couple of Scottish yellows, followed by a couple of Halfpenny tries. Rennie & Hogg impressed for Scots but it wasn’t to be.