Rugby Union: Board to fight all the way on professionalism: Chairman promises action following claims of payments to players and Inland Revenue investigations

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THE International Rugby Board is going to act decisively over breaches of its regulations on amateurism, with countries and clubs liable to severe sanctions if they do not come into line.

That was the essential message contained in a statement issued yesterday by Vernon Pugh, the IRB chairman, who interrupted his holiday in Spain to comment on claims of widespread abuse regarding payments to players and revelations that the Inland Revenue is conducting wide-ranging investigations among clubs in England, Scotland and Wales.

'Amateurism is without doubt the most controversial and relevant issue currently facing the world game and I very much welcome the public debate that is currently taking place,' Pugh said in one of the IRB's strongest statements.

'It does the administration of rugby no service at all for the IRB to be perceived as an ineffective regulator of laws which are currently said to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance,' he said, adding that the IRB's responsibility was to enforce the laws. 'We must be able to do so effectively and if necessary apply sanctions that will dissuade those who put self-interest ahead of the interests of the game as a whole.'

Pugh declared that action will be likely next March, when the IRB's AGM examines reports from world-wide working parties on the current situation and any recommendations of changes to rules.

'It is an issue of considerable complexity . . . there are differing interests with international rugby often markedly different from the interests of the club. The wealthy have demands and expectations frequently at odds with those who are financially disadvantaged.'

Pugh was expressing the concerns of many in Britain by highlighting the differences between the Northern and Southern hemispheres and is clearly expressing the strong belief that if some countries do not toe the line they might find themselves isolated. Pugh is quite clear that any suggestion the game goes professional will be vigorously opposed. 'The introduction of professionalism would bring attitudes, practices and personalities into the game which are currently wholly alien to it,' he said.

Pugh, also chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, is concerned about allegations that WRU clubs were breaking the rules. 'This is simply not an acceptable position,' he said, and promised the WRU will investigate all allegations.

Pugh believes there are already sufficient guidelines for rugby to put its house in order. What worries officials like him is that abuse is now rife and that unless swift action is taken the game could be split, with some countries choosing to go their own way.