This was supposed to be one in the eye for Louis Luyt, the South African Rugby Football Union president, who expects the game to go overtly professional as soon as the final in Johannesburg on 24 June is over and done with and by implication has no problems with the tournament itself operating quasi-professionally.
Luyt savaged the 1991 World Cup in a recent magazine interview and made clear his impatience with the old-guard types who are running both Rugby World Cup Ltd, the controlling company, and the game at large. 'Laughable' was the adjective he used for 1991.
To which Sir Ewart Bell, a World Cup director, said yesterday: 'Rugby World Cup '91 did a tremendous amount to promote and develop the game world-wide - which after all is the main function of Rugby World Cup. Therefore after the modest beginnings of '87, 1991 was a very successful tournament. 'Commendable' would be my word to set against 'laughable' which Dr Luyt uses.'
Even the diplomatic language of a former senior civil servant cannot conceal the exasperation felt by Bell and his colleagues over Luyt's mood changes and shifts of opinion. Yesterday, Bell triumphantly pointed out that last January Luyt had expressed himself completely satisfied with the five- strong RWC board, three of whom, including Bell, were similarly involved in 1991.
'It is my responsibility to protect the interests of myself and my fellow-directors,' Bell said. 'I have no difficulty personally in doing business with Dr Luyt. We come from different rugby backgrounds but I am certainly not going in any way to criticise Dr Luyt for the way in which he conducts the affairs of his union.'
The evidence as given by Luyt himself is that he is leading Sarfu all the way to professionalism. And even Nic Labuschagne, the South African on the RWC board, is scarcely adamant that the tournament will not be affected. 'I don't think anyone will be asked to be paid at the tournament,' he said yesterday. 'What will happen after that is anyone's guess.'
To which Bell added: 'If any player is paid for playing in the Rugby World Cup in 1995 it will be in contravention of the agreement which he has signed and which his union signed. Every player and every union that takes part does so on the basis of the participation agreement, and the participation agreement requires conformity with the regulations regarding amateurism.'
Conformity with the hotels selected by RWC Ltd will also be required of England and others who have indicated they might want to do their own, more luxurious thing. Meanwhile, this amateur World Cup yesterday announced its fourth main sponsor when Heineken, who have put pounds 4.75m into Welsh rugby since 1989, signed up for pounds 1m. Small wonder the players have itchy palms.Reuse content