Pros the way to halt cons

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The Independent Online
IT has, of course, been common knowledge for a long time that there is such a phenomenon as a climate of sin in rugby union. This week, Scott Gibbs, the former Wales and Lions centre who turned professional with St Helens, stated it clearly. 'Every player in Wales knows the unwritten rules,' Gibbs says in this month's issue of Rugby World.

'When he has to make a decision about whether to join this club or that club, the first question he always asks these days is: 'What inducements can you offer me?' '

Scarcely anybody today is persuaded by the notion that professionals are unclean and amateurs who consort with them risk some obscurely loathsome infection.

Nobody seriously pretends that a young man in moderate financial circumstances can live all his young manhood on the playing field without taking advantage of encouragement to cheat on rules that ludicrously limit his recompense to expenses.

And yet, in the face of irrefutable international truths, the British rugby authorities cling grimly to policy that makes it nobler for an amateur to take money on the sly and lie about it than to accept pay openly and be branded a professional.

Even now that the Inland Revenue are investigating leading clubs in England and Wales over allegations of payments to players, they cannot face up to reality and abandon the myth of amateurism on the levels where it is an acknowledged myth. With a blind devotion, these misguided fellows genuflect before their discredited idol.

In the attitude of the authorities, there has not been much to suggest a step towards healthy candour. Until now, with the confidence of history, they have sat back and waited for the storm clouds to pass.

As chairman of the International Rugby Board, the Welsh Rugby Union chairman, Vernon Pugh, is involved in an investigation of professionalism in rugby. Upon being acquainted with Gibbs' claims, he said: 'I'd very much like him to tell us what he knows. My sad guess is that he won't. He is jumping on what is becoming a very familiar bandwagon. If I knew what he is saying to be true, I would be very concerned.'

This suggests Pugh is unfamiliar with what any number of people in rugby privately offer as a truth. Shamateurism, they say, is rife. It is why some leading clubs are experiencing financial difficulties, why advice on how to deal with a Revenue probe is being made available.

Two weeks ago when members of the Welsh rugby league squad attended a training session, they were approached by a Revenue inspector. On the basis of an amnesty, they were asked to provide evidence of untaxed income received while playing rugby union. By then, Gibbs' remarks were already in print. 'This will not go away,' the man from the Revenue said. 'We are now in a position to confront the clubs with affidavits.'

The hope of people in rugby league is that this will eventually lead to proof of professionalism and end the discrimination that prevents players from returning to union after turning professional.

According to the former Aberavon and Warrington prop forward Mike Nicholas, who manages the Wales rugby league team, the issue is no longer about professionalism. 'We are talking about power and discrimination,' he said. 'Rugby union blithely ignores what amounts to a denial of human rights. Across the spectrum of sport their attitude is unique.'

The fact is that the players themselves have a great deal of responsibility in all this. To seek improved renumeration for rugby-related activities without wishing to impair their amateur status is a monumental cop-out.

Why write another meaningless distinction into the language? Why not call themselves pros and be honoured as such?

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