Rugby Union: IB chairman quick to play down `historic' talks

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The Independent Online
History will be in the making when - as reported in yesterday's Independent on Sunday - Vernon Pugh, chairman of rugby union's International Board, and Maurice Lindsay, chief executive of the Rugby League, meet in London at the end of the month.

But it is the simple fact of the meeting itself, the first between senior representatives at an official level since the great schism of 1895, rather than anything it may decide that will break new ground. "I don't actually see it leading anywhere," Pughsaid in Cardiff yesterday. "But it's obviously sensible to talk."

The agenda that has been presented of the two codes cuddling up and eventually coming together is the sheerest fancy. Pugh's has a more specific motivation: to head off the Sports Discrimination Bill being brought before Parliament by Dave Hinchliffe MP.

"I would not regard it as being in the least bit momentous," Pugh said. "It is simply opening a basis for dialogue, with not much more to it than the ability to talk to them about some issues that are common to both of us.

"The one that has concerned me is the Sports Discrimination Bill. If we were to end up with Parliament imposing a free gangway between league and union, I believe it would be a dreadfully retrograde step for us.

"How on earth can we cope with the game worldwide if in the UK we have that as a piece of parliamentary legislation? I want to find out from Maurice Lindsay what view they take of it, whether they perceive a free gangway as being what they really want, because I've heard conflicting reports about that."

A meeting between Lindsay and Keith Rowlands, the IB secretary, has been planned for at least three months. It was originally due in October and, with Pugh now involved, has been postponed again from 20 January because the IB chairman will be in Paris for Wales's match there the following day in his other capacity as chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union.

In fact, of rather greater importance to Pugh is the annual meeting of the IB at Bristol in March, when profound decisions about the nature and even existence of rugby union's amateurism - the very issue that led to the foundation of the Rugby League - will be taken before he steps down as chairman.

Meanwhile, Pugh yesterday denied a report that the IB would take disciplinary action of its own against Mike Catt - possibly even a ban from the World Cup - if, as expected, the Rugby Football Union fails to punish the England player over his admission that he was paid to play for his native Eastern Province in South Africa.

"For the first time ever I have to say there is not a word of truth in this report," Pugh said. "All I have ever said is that whatever decision the RFU comes to will go to the March meeting of the board."

More rugby union, page 28

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