Cursed by rule of fools

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The Independent Online
Why are sports administrators such idiots? Why is it that, when there is a wrong decision to be made, they will unfailingly take it, when there is a foolish answer to be given, automatically provide it?

Rugby union football is by no means the worst served. I should place athletics, football and boxing above it in the incompetence stakes. Rugby league I should have put well below it - until last week's deal with Rupert Murdoch, which may well succeed in destroying the English game. The Rugby Football Union I consider to be on a par with the Test and County Cricket Board. That is not intended as a compliment.

For the season in England is now trickling into the sands while the people on the beach are squabbling. The acrimony should have been foreseen and could have been avoided.

That the World Cup competition was to begin in May 1995 was not a piece of arcane knowledge. Everyone knew about it. Even the game's administrators must have known. They duly proceeded to arrange a full league programme in the immediately preceding month.

This was a wrong decision. But once it had been made, there were two ways of coming to terms with it.

One was to impose a blanket prohibition from playing in league matches on all members of the English touring party. This is what the Scots have done. The other was to leave the decision to the individual. I would predict that - without any need for pressure from the club concerned - every single English tourist would participate in the league fixtures and risk being injured.

Typically, the authorities have gone for a compromise: to allow the tourist to play in two league matches in April. This amounts to a fraud on the public.

At Welford Road last Saturday for example, the rugby enthusiast was able to see Tony Underwood play for Leicester but not Rory Underwood, Graham Rowntree or Martin Johnson (Dean Richards was injured). From Harlequins Will Carling, Jason Leonard and Brian Moore were all missing.

For Bath, the position is not so bad. This is because they have formidable strength in reserve, even without their Scottish contingent. It is arguable that this entitles them to prosper. I am not so sure. I would prefer it if Eric Peters, Simon Geoghegan, John Mallett and Steve Ojomoh (to name but a few) were playing regular First Division rugby for other clubs. But if they want to stay with Bath, that is their business.

For the other clubs, the ruling entails one more hazard of selection. Do we play So-and-So on Saturday? Or keep him in reserve for the big game the Saturday after? And, if we rest him this Saturday, what will our opponents get up to?

Let us leave their coaches to their new April game of guessing their opponents' intentions. It is too late to do anything now. A further piece of idiocy and worse, which it may not be too late to question, is the proposal that only a limited number of non-English players (one or, in some versions, two) should be allowed to turn out for a league match.

I am not entirely clear about how far down the league this prohibition is meant to extend. But it is clearly intended to apply to the Courage First Division. Of countries, the losers, if this plan is implemented, are likely to be Scotland; of clubs, Bath.

For years I have been urging the Welsh selectors to look beyond the Welsh clubs and the London Welsh. At last they seem to be paying some attention: though Diccon Edwards of Leicester did not make the World Cup touring party, while Rory Jenkins of Harlequins seems to have settled down with England A.

Now the English authorities, for wholly selfish reasons, want to discourage further movement - indeed to end such flexibility as exists. They have already secured one success. Without anyone's noticing it, the divisional teams became exclusively English.

English nationalism is now extending to the clubs. A professional game like football does not attempt to impose any such restrictions. If it did, the Republic of Ireland team would vanish overnight. The new English proposal is nasty and mean-spirited. I hope it will be jettisoned. Club rugby is not for the English, but for everyone who wants to play.

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