Carling is derailed in the buffer zone

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The Independent Online
OLD FARTS are not unlike old soldiers except that they take even longer to fade away, and become even crustier, which is why Will Carling is now the ex-captain of England. The leaders of the Rugby Football Union to whom Carling referred so unflatteringly last week were bound to be bristling with indignation of a long-term nature and whatever happened he knew he would rarely be far away from an enemy in rugby.

To captain England at any game is to be guaranteed such presences, but it doesn't help when they are cultivated on a wholesale basis. Carling's words, that "you don't need 57 old farts running rugby", were the parting shot in the Channel 4 programme Fair Game on Thursday night and, on reflection, were not wise. It wasn't his doing to use the sentiment as the end of a broadcast highly damaging to the credibility of the RFU's stance on professionalism but the words carried much more weight as a result and, certainly, did Carling no favours in return for his substantial eloquence on the subject of rugby amateurism.

Sadly, if there's anything more frustrating than a game run by old farts it is game run by old farts who take themselves seriously and nowhere is that more true than the beleaguered citadel of Twickenham. By insulting their dignity, any chance the programme had of causing them to re-examine their views in the light of the arguments put forward by Carling and his colleague Rob Andrew was ruined.

There is also the point that old farts are a feature of every known sport and may even have their uses. If Rupert Murdoch is ushering in an era in which sport is to be run by moguldom, perhaps in 20 years we'll be screaming for the old farts to return.

As much as I admire Carling and agree with his sentiments, he appears not to realise that organised sport owes its brilliant creation in the 19th century to two sets of enthusiasts - the young bloods who hurled themselves into formative activity and the old farts who repaired to the nearest pub to draw up rules and constitutions that have governed much of world sport for much more than a century.

Sport has been forced to adapt new values and priorities in relatively recent times and even the last bastion, the RFU, are going to have to look hard at the anachronistic shadow they throw upon the game. It took courage for a player in Carling's position to point this out, particularly as he didn't need to. He has created a prosperous career out of being a rugby player without the necessity of being paid for playing, so his is a genuine and unselfish regard for the game and its players.

I'm sure that the retiring RFU secretary Dudley Wood has the same regard but as their spokesman he is cast in a reactionary role which he performs with relish. Unfortunately for him, the direction of the programme, which went over a lot of old ground, was in hands similarly skilled to those that crucified Northwood Golf Club last year. Crafty cutting and the wicked juxtaposition of words and pictures can create a merciless exposure of an indefensible position.

But in sacking Carling the RFU have created a more damaging impression of their priorities than any caustic TV programme could. To sacrifice, in a fit of pique, a captain who has led England through one of the most glorious periods in their history signifies that they are more concerned with their own importance than they are with the morale of a team about to challenge for the World Cup. English rugby may pay a high price for their decision. Carling has been a dashing subaltern on the field and may well have had a field-marshall's baton in his jockstrap. One thing is certain; when it considers carefully what the RFU have done, most of the country will be reaching for a stronger description than old farts.

EVEN the most enthusiastic supporter of the idea to set up the National Lottery would have been braced for controversy over the destination of some of the proceeds but as long as the bulk of the cash gets to the most deserving places we can put up with the more dim-witted of the donations.

However, the signs are not good that the distribution is following enlightened paths. Much of the problem can be blamed on the government whose strict guidelines for awards do not appear to be blessed with common sense - unless, of course, they really want the money to go to those who need it least.

It was very disappointing on Friday to hear of the Sports Council's fears that the applications for sport's share of the lottery funds were not flowing from the most needy directions, such as the inner cities. The trouble is that the application process is complicated and vague, and the recipients must stump up at least 35 per cent of the total cost of the project which would also weigh in favour of professional advice and activities primarily plaed by the middle classes.

The Sports Council are to investigate the shortage of inner city applications but the answer, surely, is that the hard-pressed people there need more help and guidance. The 12-strong panel who decide on grants under £1m contains bright sports people like the former footballers Garth Crooks and Trevor Brooking and the swimmer Adrian Moorhouse but they are not allowed to inspire applications.

Why not? Have their services been enlisted merely for them to sit in a committee room waiting for the postman to arrive - or should we be asking them to use the sporting creativity and initiative for which, I presume, they were chosen in the first place?

IN YOUR rush to get into the betting shop when they open at noon today - "Sorry Vicar, after you" - please spare a thought for a few of the victims of this latest advance in the provision of betting opportunities to the masses. I don't mean those upon whom the wrath of the Lord will eventually descend but those who have the misfortune to be employed in the industry.

While the debate about Sunday racing and the accompanying opening of betting shop doors was going through Parliament, many were the assurances that employees would not be forced into working. This was some small consolation to those attempting to keep Sunday special - and that included many punters glad of one day free of temptation - but who had no chance against the strange compulsion of both houses to pander to the bookmakers.

When history is made today with the first trickle of bets (the 12.15 at Walthamstow dogs is your initial chance for a wager), no employee will be there against his or her will. That, at least, is the theory. In practice, anyone who prefers not to work will find their career prospects have lessened considerably. I hear of one manager of a busy betting shop who announced his preference to spend Sundays with his three children and who is now the manager of a shop which is so quiet they don't intend to open it on Sundays in any case. His wages have suffered accordingly.

But maybe there are new earning opportunities for others. Churches, for instance, could make money hiring out their bells - a few peals five minutes before the off would be a very useful service.

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