Rugby Union: Callard embodies dilemma

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The Independent Online
The problem of professionalism in rugby union is coming to a head. The Bath and England full-back, Jon Callard, has returned from South Africa to be told by Downside School, where he teaches, that he will no longer have a job in January.

Callard bears no anger towards the school. "The chief reason they gave me was beyond theirs and my control - the economic climate. But teaching is a demanding job in terms of time and it was suggested that rugby was demanding too much of mine," Callard said.

It is a theme which is likely to recur as the time demanded by top-flight rugby keeps increasing, rendering the marriage between playing and an off-field career less and less tenable. The players' response will be an inevitable push towards full professionalism.

Callard is phlegmatic about his situation. He is still young and articulate. If his teaching career has come to a halt because of his hobby, he is resigned to finding something else. But he only has until January, when his present post at the West Country school ends. By then his wife, Gail, will have given birth to their first child. More responsibility, more pressure to have a job.

Callard was one of the 140 players who were invited to attend the confidential meeting involving players from England's top clubs on Friday. Callard said: "It was meant to be a private affair. We were invited along as individuals to express our views. Neither I nor anyone else was there in any official representative capacity.

"It is all very well the RFU [Rugby Football Union] saying 'OK you can advertise in England kit', but that is something only the top handful of players will be asked to do," Callard said. "The less glamorous members of the England squad and those of us on the bench will not have that sort of earning opportunity. I have not been offered a contract of any sort by either the Kerry Packer or Rupert Murdoch faction but if concessions are not made by the rugby authorities, those players who have been offered them will almost certainly take them up."

It seems unlikely that anything will be resolved immediately to the satisfaction of the players because Alwynne Evans, the chief executive of the National Clubs' Association, said yesterday: "Until we know the outcome of next month's meeting on amateurism it will be difficult for anyone to decide anything."

Malcolm Phillips, who chairs the RFU-players' working party trying to increase the England squad's income, said he hoped the players would think before leaping at the Packer offer: "I hope the players will go for our bird in hand. We are not competing in terms of pounds in pockets with this circus. But will the money from this grandiose scheme be there, at least in the long term?

"The players have a choice. Do they want something that they can bank? Or do they want to become contracted pros but with no guarantees for their futures? We still see rugby, even at the top, as a pastime."

n Paul Hull, the England and Bristol full-back, and has turned down a four-year contract from Warrington. "Paul has told us he wants to stay in union at this stage of his career," Peter Higham, the Warrington chairman, said.