Peter Bills: Harlequins must be thrown out of Heineken Cup

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The Independent Online

The longer the Harlequins 'Bloodgate' affair goes on, the deeper the authorities pry into its evil, labyrinthine passages, the more mysterious it becomes. We tend to get more questions than answers, as the whole sorry saga drags on.

The latest revelations and sentences are stunning. Dean Richards thrown out of rugby for three years, the club's fine stiffened in terms of immediate payment.

Yet the most justified, inevitable punishment is not yet decided upon; namely, for how long will 'Quins be slung out of the Heineken Cup? Why not? On that one, there is no decision yet from the committee. Yet in the light of what has happened, it can be only a question of how long the club's exclusion lasts, not whether there is one or not.

Should Harlequins not be excluded from the tournament, and a two year ban is the minimum period they should suffer, it would be a combination of travesty and farce. ERC would lose all vestige of respect and credibility if they handed down these suspensions and then allowed the club to stay in their lucrative tournament.

It would be akin to the British authorities, having at last got their hands on Ronnie Biggs a few years back, allowing him membership of the train drivers' union.

There can be no way whatsoever Harlequins remain in the Heineken Cup. Yet is there, as yet, no decision because ERC are bending over backwards to avoid all the fuss of having to re-arrange fixtures ? I have good reason to think it is.

I understand a conversation took place late last week between a senior figure near the top of ERC and an official from a Guinness Premiership club. The ERC official, someone who would know the situation very well, suggested it could be too late to omit Harlequins from this season's tournament because of all the fuss of ticketing arrangements and money already paid by supporters.

If that proved to be the case and 'Quins escaped a ban, then ERC should hang their heads in shame. Harlequins' presence in the tournament anytime in the next two years would be an insult to the good name of the sport, never mind provide a damning indictment of ERC and the Heineken Cup.

Are we seriously being led to believe that Heineken would be happy to have their name associated with a club where certain individuals have been found guilty of cheating? Is that what Heineken want out of their sponsorship ? ERC have to understand this is non-negotiable: Harlequins simply have to be banned from the Heineken Cup, no matter what the initial dsruption.

So what if money has to be refunded to people who have already bought tickets for Harlequins' Heineken Cup games for this season? Concerts get cancelled, artists get sick, money gets refunded. There is nothing new in this. Let Harlequins explain to their fans why they have wasted their money booking tickets and trips to games.....and why they intend to do the decent thing and reimburse them. Let them admit some of their own cheating employees got them into this situation.

On that issue, another mystery remains. If Dean Richards is now the No. 1 fall guy, as we are being told, why did the club not sack him? Why did he only resign? Surely, if no other senior figures at the club were involved, and then Richards eventually told them the truth, he would have been summarily dismissed.

Harlequins would have been perfectly within their rights to do that. But that did not happen. Why not? Could it have been to protect other senior personnel at the club who were also involved? Surely not...

Yet the mystery remains. Does it not need answering? Have Harlequins really come clean now or are others still desperately trying to hang onto their jobs or still being protected?

The stench from this affair has now got up the nostrils of just about everyone in rugby. I always knew Dean Richards was a blood sports man; he loves to go shooting. But I never realised he was that keen on the sight of blood that this trick had been used four times before. You learn something every day.