Getting it right in the cash dept

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The Independent Online
HONOUR in sport is a fine thing, but even so, I've rarely heard a convincing argument against a briefcase full of fivers. And now even rugby union is discovering the intense feelings of joy and inner fulfilment created by the receipt of vast sums of money. Whether or not the South Africans did stuff pounds 30,000 or so into the sweaty hands of Welsh players is neither here nor there: the thing is that if they did, you'd be hard pressed to say the players didn't deserve it. Leading Formula One drivers earn as much every time they clean their teeth. But then rugby union is booming as never before. Every game is watched by trillions, and once dedicated rugbyphobes like me now sit down every other Saturday with a pile of ice-cold tinnies and several packets of Beef Flavour Hula-Hoops. And the cash is beginning to flow. Look at Twickenham's plush new stand and the queue of prospective sponsors desperate to join in on the fun. Even Bill Beaumont has bought a couple of new sweaters.

Pity then, the poor players, wallowing cheerfully down there in the mud. In any other sport, these worthy souls, with their entertaining hairbands and acute dental problems, would now be marketing their own sportswear and appearing on game shows. But the whole rugby union ethos - blazers, stupid songs, well-paid jobs in the City - militates against such unbridled commercialism. The odd sweetener perhaps - but only as long as no one else knows about it. The only thing is that now everyone knows about it. Suddenly, the whole idea of amateurism looks a bit silly. These are 'amateurs' who wish to be 'amateur' as in 'amateur athletics', ie professional. The era of genuine honest-to- goodness professionalism surely can't be far away.

But how much is a rugby player worth? More than a snooker player? Less than Jocky Wilson? About the same as a sumo wrestler? As soon as money enters the frame, questions of value tend to get muddied, and besides, a sport that still lists players' initials deserves to be treated with care. What is needed, therefore, is some sort of a code of conduct for the new 'professional' game of rugby union. I think the Berkmann Code of Conduct would be a good name for it:

No player shall appear on Blankety Blank, or on charity editions of You Bet], or even on A Question of Sport, without first having his chunky knitwear approved by a senior representative of the RugbyFootball Union. Any player who reveals hidden talents on chat shows (singing/dancing/doing Tommy Cooper impersonations) will be deemed to have brought the game in to disrepute.

No players, or coaches, interviewed after the game, will suggest that the lads done great, or the lads done terrific. In rugby union we use adverbs.

Shirt advertising is unacceptable. When it is finally brought in, however, any brands chosen should be suitably upmarket - expensive hi-fi components, for instance, or German motor cars, rather than cheap cigs, fish fingers or Brillo pads. And whatever personal deals the England captain may wish to make, Carling Black Label is right out.

Other forms of advertising and sponsorship may yet be officially encouraged, but there will have to be limits. No bank, insurance company or other agglomeration of fat men in suits will have their logo spray-painted on the field. Grounds will not be renamed 'Tuborg Twickenham', or 'Carlsberg Cardiff Arms Park'. Let alone 'Murraymint'.

Rugby songs are now in copyright. Royalties must be paid to the RFU within 30 days of performance.

Rugby Union players do not wear Brut.