Rugby Union / The State of the Union: Amateurism, a mighty anachronism

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The Independent Online
BEARING in mind the professionalism of every other big-time 'recreation', the debate about amateurism in rugby union is among the most arcane in sport and I have come to the reluctant conclusion that there can be no compromise between the opposing points of view.

On the one hand, the defenders of the amateur faith could not possibly countenance any further retreat. The game is already irrevocably changed, for the worse in their opinion, and any more of the same would probably make the situation terminal.

I do believe rugby union had something, indefinable but special, as long as it was able to hold fast to its old ways. The notion of the great international player being treated no differently from his lowliest counterpart had an endearing purity about it.

But I no longer find the defender- of-the-faith argument in the least persuasive. After all, it is rugby's very success - the vast sums of sponsorship monies (as distinct from player-payment money) - that has brought about the situation where professionalism is inexorably creeping into the game.

And who is responsible for this? The players who provide the spectacle of course.

But who goes out and negotiates the sponsorships, who sets up the competitive structures that have given rugby its highest profile and so generated still more millions? Why, those very administrators who argue against professionalism.

Well, we already have quasi-professionalism and in the process these gentlemen are turning their faces against human nature itself. If you were an international player partly responsible for the RFU's grossing pounds 1.5m per Twickenham international, might you not imagine it would be nice if a modest proportion was passed on to you?

Further change is as inevitable as a boring game of rugby under the new laws. The choice is between standing in the last ditch and ensuring a north-south divide that would have an incalculably detrimental effect on British Isles rugby, and managing the change with a glad heart so that rugby benefits along with its practitioners. It can be done.

The last-ditch brigade do not consider the two to be mutually compatible. I find the arguments of Mike James of Swansea, the progressive chairman of a progressive club, more to my taste.

'Even if I don't actually like the way things are going it's no good me standing with my feet or my head buried in the sand on Swansea beach, and if we're not prepared to take on board the changes being made in rugby we really will bugger up the game,' James said. In other words rugby union is indeed changing, has already changed - for good.

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