Thursday, January 09, 2014

HCup-gate : Driven to distraction

betting sports

When my teenage kids were smaller I used to have different ways of handling their back-seat arguments on long car journeys.

Most of the time, it wouldn’t be hard to work out who was in the right…more often than not it was either her giving out to her younger brother for not falling in line with the strict set of game rules she had just made up on the spot, or it was him responding in his own brand of “kind” by calling her a “bum-bum head”.

Once in a while, however, their verbal spats would meander down a path where either both sides had their merits, or as was usually the case, each of their respective arguments was equally as immature and illogical as the other. 

In those cases, I tended to turn up the volume on the REM or Radiohead tracks I was playing (don’t judge), squeeze the steering wheel until my knuckles turned blue and gaze ahead as if I was wearing an industrial-strength metal neck brace.

The trouble with this methodology, of course, was that there was never any hope of the two resolving their dispute…if I were into betting sports I’d say Daddy getting them safely to their destination wasn't a priority of theirs and the volume of their back-and-forth exchanges would steadily rise as each tried to drag me into their self-made mess.  As if driving on Dublin roads didn’t get my blood pressure levels up enough…

Anyway…I can only assume yesterday’s statement by the IRB pertaining to cross-border competitions represents the driver in my above analogy pulling over into the hard shoulder and politely reminding the passengers that they are all travelling in the same direction, so would they mind ever so much piping down as Daddy might just be developing a migraine.

Thing is, though, unlike my example it’s not a 95 VW Golf the IRB are driving (again, please don’t judge); it’s more like an 18-wheeler juggernaut which was never designed for passengers that has everyone pinballing around the container section as it goes around corners.

OK enough of the vehicle-based metaphors for now….
What I want to do here is go through the numerous players in this drama.  I’m sick of reading agenda-driven (“driven”, doh!, sorry can’t seem to put the brakes on them)  so-called “definitive” articles so I’ll do what I can to be objective.

When doling out portions from the massive stockpile of blame in this saga, here are some principal recipients…
  • THE IRISH - Though these are in no particular order, I’ll start here on account of that promise of objectivity. 

    But we do have to take a measure of the blame for this row because on many levels, if anything our brand of professionalism has worked too goddam well. 

    Does that sound smug?  Of course it does, and that is a large part of the reason why so many from other nations aren’t so willing to work with us.

    Now I know things aren’t perfect here by a long stretch…what success we have had has come largely from playing chicken with the lure of money from abroad when it comes to player salaries at the top, and those chickens are coming home to roost now. 

    But that’s a debate for another day….my point is, just because the status quo has worked for us, we can’t just sit back and fold our arms expecting other countries to rally round and do things our way, because the fact of the matter is, they won’t, end of.
  • THE WELSH - I won’t profess for a second to know the ins and outs of their mess, and what’s more, since all the parties hopped on the statement merry-go-round the situation could well have changed several times by the time you get to the end of this sentence.

    But with the overall theme of my post being  “taking responsibility”, surely the buck has to stop with the WRU.  They may point to Grand Slams as vindication of their policies, but I would argue the exact opposite. 

    As much as I am jealous of their multiple successes in the Six Nations since the game went pro, the fact remains that although the tournament may have grown in nation-numbers over the years, in terms of place on the calendar and tradition, it is essentially the same competition as it was going back deep into the days when mere talk of paying players was considered blasphemy.

    The switch from a local club-based game to one with selected franchises providing a professional environment throughout the long European season was one that needed to be handled - it wasn’t down to anyone but the WRU to handle it, and as we can all see with this on-going battle played out through the media, they haven’t handled it.

    Clearly they need a unifying figure to come in and make sense of it all…whether or not
    David Moffett is the man to be that figure remains to be seen, but surely top of anyone’s agenda should be to drag everyone back behind closed doors to thrash everything out.
  • THE ENGLISH - Just typing the name “Mark McCafferty” makes me angry so I’ll only do it once.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of the arguments he and the PRL have been spouting (and as much as I hate to say it there were some rights), the sheer arrogance of his approach to media presentation makes Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary look like Pope Francis.  Doesn’t help anyone, not even the Premiership clubs IMO.

    One key player on the English side of the equation should be Bill Beaumont…with a foot in both IRB and RFU camps he seems to have the right amount of diplomatic chips to play and hopefully he knows when to play them.
  • THE FRENCH - They have a great history in grand political unions - the soccer World Cup is largely down to Frenchmen and it created the model for its equivalents in other sports.  But as we have seen by the fiasco surrounding this year’s tournament in Brazil and one 8+ years down the road, even the most socialist-based models of sport can’t be immune from capitalism.

    So in France we have on the one hand Pierre Camou clinging to the pan-European concept, while on the other we have the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen that is the Top 14 and its sugar-daddies who are about as easy to usher around as cats in a parade. 

    A complex parcel to hold together you could say, and certainly not easy to deal with.
  • THE SCOTS & ITALIANS - I bet fans from these two countries are sick of being lumped together in this argument…talk about the odd couple! 

    But theirs is a significant part of the equation…throw in Argentina and you have the three countries that are stuck in the dam between the “established test” nations and the dozens of lower-tier ones with the talent and the fan-base and the money to break into the world game and make a real difference. 

    That’s an elephant in the rugby room that will just keep on getting bigger, but for now, a solution must be found to keep the SRU & FIR in the mix, though they can’t just be allowed take things for granted - for example, Glasgow Warriors need to do more to ensure they can host rugby matches and although Zebre are finally winning this season, I’m not so sure they are a long-term solution to their need for a second pro team.
  • SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE - We tend to forget that the Super Rugby format is another that gets endlessly debated, with new articles on proposed solutions cropping up all the time.  The reason I chuck some “blame” in their direction, however, is that by and large they have come up with a model of the pro game that actually seems to achieve it’s principle goal, that being a high-functioning test team. 

    Those Rugby Championship squads that visit us every November have been together since July…when can we EVER say that about our test squads?  Yet is seems to be in our European DNA to resist copying systems from abroad, at least on a grand scale.  So I guess this is more directed at us than them.
  • THE MEDIA - Hardly blameless in all of this but since they do most of the reporting, they don’t see too much of it. 

    First and foremost, we rarely see the Heineken Cup row as the battle it really is - one between the behemoths that are BT Sport and Sky over who gets to cover it. 

    But on a secondary level we have the print & broadcast journos who have column inches to fill…I have nothing wrong with folks making a living of course, but this piece is about blame and the fact remains the continued uncertainty gives them (and yes, I know, also us humble bloggers) plenty to write about, even if it does get in the way of the boring old actual rugby going on out on the pitch.
  • THE IRB - I hope you didn’t think this lot would be let off the hook, did you? When I posted a link to their statement on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page, one commenter simply replied : “Big question is: what took them so long? Why did they let it get this far?” which says it all and I suspect the answer harks back to my (possibly over-drawn) opening spiel about clinging to steering wheels.
And since I have arrived back at my opening point, I should probably bring this long post to a close.

Governing bodies, much like parents, are seldom universally popular.  But someone still needs to step up and get the job done.

A solution needs to be found which not only provides a way out of this hole, but also does what it can to avoid to falling into any more down the line.  Hopefully someone with the right amount of clout has their eyes on the road. JLP

photo by Simon Williams under creative commons license


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