Thursday, November 21, 2013

Euro Cup power grab - a load of bull

A sport called rugby “union” certainly can’t end up being split like boxing or darts. Can it?


photo source


People clearly get a lot of enjoyment from sports like darts, boxing and wrestling and I certainly don’t want to tread on their toes, but my problems with them don’t stem from what the participants are actually doing, rather the way the sports are organized.

Take darts for example.  I used to LOVE watching it as a kid.  From the characters of the game like Eric “The Crafty Cockney” Bristow and the late Jocky Wilson to the legendary utterings of the also late Sid “What An Athlete!” Waddell it was pure split-screen entertainment.

In those early days the World Championship was on BBC, but then Sky came on the scene with their satellite revolution.  To make a long story simple, they wanted their big bucks to take over the sport as they had with football, but the governing BDO had the nerve to try to resist.

So from 1994 onwards we have had the ludicrous situation of there being TWO World Championships in darts.  Yes - not only were they unable to find a resolution, the grudgery has carried on for that long.  With two separate organisations running the sport, it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “double top”.

This bit of history highlights the ironies in the current dilemma facing European rugby.  Now it is Sky who are in control of the status quo, and it’s another new kid on the block BT Sport who are trying to muscle in.

A bit like the darts, we now have two cup competitions claiming to be the European club championship of rugby.  Thankfully though, there is still a difference, and no matter how many tough-talking press releases Mark McCafferty & the English clubs churn out on behalf of their BT Sport overlords, it’s a big difference.

This entity known as the “Rugby Champions Cup” is missing one vital component - the backing of the IRB. 

In the darts, the BDO was considered the governing body of the sport, and that was a bit unfortunate for them seeing how the “B” stood for “British” - perhaps the name didn’t really lend itself to organising a World Championship.

Rugby union, however, has a governing body.  Just how strong it is, we can debate another day, but the fact remains a competition cannot be held without their blessing.

The Heineken Cup has been in existence since 1995.  It is what was always there as the game got used to professionalism.  It is the pinnacle of achievement in European club rugby.  It MUST remain the standard.

What sickens me most about the way the whole saga is being reported in the press is the fact that we’re being led to believe that the main characters are the likes of McCafferty, English chairmen like Wray, French presidents like Serge Blanco, or union presidents like Pierre Camou.

All of the above are simply mouthpieces.  The real power-grab is an “Alien vs Predator” (or for those who like it old school, “King Kong vs Godzilla”)-type situation with two TV monsters duking it out over the advertising spoils.

My position on all of this hasn’t changed one iota since the RCC was first mooted, but I’ll spell it out again

  • I agree the HCup format could do with a re-vamp
  • I do NOT agree McCafferty & co are the ones who should dictate the form that re-vamp takes
  • I dismiss as pure hypocrisy the claims the PRL have made re : unfairness of the qualification methods up to now. [For example - re: Irish teams resting players before HCup weekends - what do they have to say about the LV= Cup where a HCup slot is awarded for a competition where NOBODY EVER plays their best sides???]
  • Most of all, these negotiations should be happening in their entirety behind closed doors, and by rights should have been done & dusted before a ball was kicked this season.  Now we have a situation where we are 7 or more games into the domestic campaign and still nobody is sure where they stand when it comes to qualifying.

I’m not sure whether the people involved in this palaver would prefer to be called “babies” or “cowards” but the way I see it, up to now they have behaved like one of those things if not both.  And yes, I include the IRB in this as they are probably afraid to take a stand for fear of scaring off too many ad revenue sources down the line.

Maybe, and it’s a very small maybe, there will be more clarity after today’s meeting here in Dublin, but that will be a tough ask as all the babies/cowards won’t be present.

It’s not like the sport of rugby hasn’t been down this “split” road before!  We need someone to hit the bull’s eye and fast. JLP


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019