Revolution against poor government

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Rebellion is a treasonable offence even in the unruly world of sport but it is difficult not to sympathise with the English and Welsh rugby clubs who declared their intention to revolt against their respective unions on the eve of yesterday's launch of the new season. Rather than gasp at their insolence, we should marvel at the patience with which they've controlled their frustration for so long.

Conflict between clubs and country is an unavoidable problem and the immobilisation this weekend of football's Premiership programme for the sake of some pretty mundane World Cup qualifying matches shows that even a long- established and comparatively well-structured commercial game like football has yet to get it right.

Rugby union, in the infancy of its professionalism, still has the basic battles between national and international priorities to fight and anyone who has attempted to keep pace with the squabble between the home unions will be aware that the quest to keep their hands on the power, the glory and the cash is still the driving force of rugby officialdom.

That the clubs would identify more basic and more important considerations was only to be expected - after all, they are at the pointed end of this new rugby era and have made a massive and perilous investment in its success - and their annoyance that the game had reached the threshold of the season in such a pathetically disorganised state was an understandable spur to their threat to break away and sort out their own destiny.

Brand-new teams, bristling with fresh talent and ambitions, should have been stepping out this weekend into a dawn bright with opportunity. Instead, they kicked off towards a future engloomed by doubts, uncertainties and an alarming lack of visible competence from their governing bodies.

Predictably, the presence among the rebels of the glut of well-heeled entrepreneurs who have bank-rolled the biggest transfer upheaval in sporting history has led to the revolt being dismissed as the arrogance of the nouveau riche. But, if you care to look back over the 12 months since the Rugby Football Union reluctantly embraced the principle of honest professionalism, who else but the clubs have offered rugby supporters a clear vision of a better, more exciting game to come?

Having created 15 or so teams capable of elevating the domestic English game to unprecedented competitive standards, the clubs were entitled to the support and cooperation they had been promised back in May. The Anglo- Welsh League has floundered, a victim of the continuing conflict between the RFU and the other home unions, sponsors have hung back and the chance of a traditionally well- ordered season that can be planned and budgeted for seems slim.

The RFU may feel they've had bigger battles to fight but the cream of the game they have been elected to govern, the players, the coaches and the club administrators, have been like an army drawn up in formation awaiting the order to advance.

The situation in Wales is slightly different in that the clubs have a closer relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union, who have helped prevent the loss of several top players by giving them lucrative contracts for the international team. But the clubs have been left without a sponsor for their league and bereft of any BSkyB revenue to offset the estimated pounds 6m worth of players' contracts to which the Welsh clubs are committed.

Allying themselves to the breakaway English clubs gives them the immediate prospect of more television income and the sort of competition that is going to increase gate receipts and raise the game's profile. The chance has already gone of building up the prospects of this new season. Yesterday's beginning should have been an explosion but it was tame and confused and a financial disaster for Neath and Pontypridd, the Welsh league and Cup winners. They were meant to play Bath and Leicester in fascinating matches which would have netted the clubs about pounds 50,000 apiece. The games fell victims to the squabble, and a plan to have Neath and Pontypridd play each other in a compensatory match at the Arms Park is likely to be a financial flop.

Men who would be professionals, in the accepted meaning of the word, are being led by men determined to remain amateurs, in the accepted meaning of that word. It hasn't helped that the more suspicious regard the RFU's greed in selling the television rights to the Five Nations tournament - that didn't belong to them - to be based on a need to pay the large debt they owe on the expansion of Twickenham (which, I hear from certain clubs, contains a purpose-built wine store).

The WRU are embarked on a similarly expensive rebuilding of the sacred and perfectly adequate Arms Park, which will be partly funded by the lottery but will require a massive levy on Welsh rugby profits.

The impression from the unions is that they have been driven to create these citadels by a desire to preserve a power of governance that is suddenly and obviously anachronistic. If they could address that allegation and demonstrate a more realistic approach to their future role, the clubs could still be mollified.

At least we have now entered a time when we can start discussing rugby as a game, and not just as a source of power and finance. Cardiff failed in an attempt to postpone their match against Swansea yesterday because of an outbreak of scrum-pox - a contagious rash that can spread through opposing packs like wildfire.

It said much about the game of rugby union last week that an outbreak of scrum-pox seemed like a breath of fresh air.

SIGHT of Matthew Maynard and Robert Croft playing in the first one-day international against Pakistan on Thursday caused a considerable amount of head-scratching in my pub while we tried to remember the last time the selectors were so desperate or so careless as to include two Glamorgan players in an England team.

It wasn't as long ago as you might have thought - 1993, in fact, when Maynard and Steve Watkin kept each other company on the way to play for England against Australia. Let that be a lesson to those who perpetuate the myth of Test match discrimination against the Welsh county.

IF YOU had plans to bring out in time for Christmas a dumpy little doll called Gazza that belched everytime you pressed his belly, you'll not only need Paul Gascoigne's permission but he will take 10 per cent of the profits. Gascoigne is one of several players who have taken the precaution of registering their names and nicknames with the Patent Office.

Latest to protect themselves against pirates cashing in on their fame are Alan Shearer and Ryan Giggs. Using the name "Giggsy" on your product is henceforth forbidden. It sounds a very wise precaution by the lads.

Unfortunately, I understand that many footballers have been turned away disappointed by the patents people. "Dopey" was registered years ago by Walt Disney.

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