Caught between feud and a feudal system

If they could drive their partners to the verge of rebellion, we should have known they could antagonise the players into mutiny mode
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The Independent Online

English rugby wrinkled up its nose at the smell of greed when the England squad threatened to strike last week but I suspect that much of the pungency reaching the nostrils came from the lingering odour of Old Fartdom.

English rugby wrinkled up its nose at the smell of greed when the England squad threatened to strike last week but I suspect that much of the pungency reaching the nostrils came from the lingering odour of Old Fartdom.

The more we hear of this degrading episode the more it seems that pay was less of a problem than player indignation at being patronised by a Rugby Football Union leadership still living in its haughty amateur past.

Before they reached the stage where a strike threat appeared to be the only negotiating weapon left to the squad, captain Martin Johnson was using words like "feudal" to describe the attitude of the men on the other side of the bargaining table. Even after peace had erupted, the players were still fuming at what they considered was the condescending and confrontational approach of those who obviously regard themselves as their lords and masters.

By then, coach Clive Woodward had come to the conclusion that the Union must take a large amount of the responsibility for allowing matters to reach such a flashpoint. Commendably, he also carved a large slice of the blame for his own contribution although I believe the only mistake he made was to get involved at all. A coach should hold himself aloof from players and management and Woodward should recover that position as soon as he can.

Whether the game can look forward to receiving any stability from its governing fathers in the near future is doubtful. The RFU's performance since the arrival of professionalism has been woeful. Civil war among the clubs seems an ever-present threat, the domestic programme is still chaotic and relations with their neighbours have not been easy since they attempted to snaffle the bulk of the television earnings from home internationals.

We should have taken warning that if they could drive their Five Nations partners to the verge of rebellion they'd have no trouble in antagonising their own playersinto mutiny mode. You can be kind and blame the problems of adjusting to professionalism if you like but they don't appear to have any trouble raking the money in from every conceivable commercial source. It's sharing it they find difficult.

This corporate contempt for the spending end of professionalism has long passed the time when it could be forgiven. Besides, the culture that persuaded the England team to go for broke was not of the players' making. They are entitled to seek reward for their efforts from whoever they represent, even their country. Earning a living the best way you can is not a reprehensible act. They might have gone too far in pursuit of that right but, considering who they were up against, they deserve to be forgiven.

 

While rugby's antics were occupying the headlines, a financial dispute involving serious money was engaging the rapt attention of the City. Top fund manager John Duffield was seeking a record £15 million in damages at the High Court for wrongful dismissal from the German bank that bought him out for £679m.

We need not bore ourselves with the details, but after Duffield settled out of court for £5m he summed up the obsession that these financiers have with their personal fortunes. "I am very competitive," he said, "and money is how we keep the score." As a measure of a person's achievement, there's nothing wrong with including their bank balance among the other factors that govern our opinion of their worth, but this approach is becoming increasingly and annoyingly prevalent in sport.

Why should we need money to keep our scores when we have points, goals, inches, seconds, runs, wickets, caps, cups, titles - all valid currency when checking on a man or woman's sporting value? But whenever a superstar like Michael Jordan is mentioned by the media the first fact used in describing him is not a statistic to explain his basketball prowess but how many millions of dollars he gets paid a year.

Similarly, when the name of Tiger Woods is introduced we tend to learn more of the extent of his earnings this year than the staggering fact that he has won three majors. The European Tour has just honoured Lee Westwood as the Order of Merit winner in the year 2000. He takes the title from Colin Montgomerie who won it for seven years in succession.

Obviously, the amount of prizemoney a man gathers up in 12 months is a reliable guide to how he has fared but there are so many statistical ways in which a golfer's feats can be measured. Scores, course records broken, birdies, fairways hit in regulation, number of putts, sand saves... a calculation of a golfer's achievements based on the golfing ability he's proved might or might not yield the same result, but it would be a more satisifying yardstick.

It is only in recent times thatfinancial rewards in sport have climbed to astronomical heights, so perhaps our obsession with the figures is forgiveable but we may well have reached the time when the figures become meaningless.

I may be bog-eyed with innocence but I believe that the true football fan is more impressed with the way Roy Keane plays than by the fact that he earns £50,000 a week; particularly when you consider that people can earn that sort of money running a bad railway.

Keane's wages, or anyone else's, may be due more to the negotiating skills of his agent than his own ability so judging a man on the size of pay packet is futile exercise best left to those areas of life where counting your money is the only satisfaction.

 

Money was also a popular theme among the suggestions we've received for the competition announced last week to create a new name for Match of the Day when it moves from the BBC to ITV next season.

ITV are polishing up a new format, but have yet to come up with a title. As a gesture of assistance we're offering the massed brain-power of our readers and will give a bottle of champagne for the most appropriate title.

The first batch of entries have been very promising. John Kirk reasons that since ITV have stolen the show they should pinch a title from the Beeb, too. He suggests The Money Programme.

Larceny was also on the mind of David McNamara of Hartlepool with his Snatch of the Day. Tim Mickleburgh of Grimsby sent several entries which ranged from the less than complimentary Bumpkin Millionaires to the more staid Premier Performers.

Martina Doherty tried a few skits on existing titles. Only Pools and Curses was one but I prefer The League of Foreign Gentlemen. Nick Thornton of Cosby, Leicestershire, offered the formal Premier Soccer Saturday in addition to a tribute to the sponsors with A Game of Two Halves of Carling.

Peter Cooke of Coventry recruited the help of his colleagues in the small toolroom in which he works. Andy came up with Men Behaving Sadly while Denis suggested It's a Knockabout. They'll keep working on it.

Neil Morton picked up on the French trend with his clever Crÿme de la Prem. Unfortunately, he is the sports editor and is barred from entering.

All others can send their entries, marked ITV Title, to the Sports Desk, Independent on Sunday, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or by e-mail to sport@independent. co.uk Please include your address in e-mails.

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