Peter Bills: Quins punishment must go further

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Mark Evans, the embattled Chief Executive of Harlequins, seems to have become the Gordon Brown of British rugby.

Brown's renowned disappearing act when the going gets hot or some issue demands action is legendary and career defining. Evans seems to be following in his wake.

Thus far, the Chairman of Harlequins, Charles Jillings, the Rugby Director Dean Richards and the club's former physiotherapist Steph Brennan, have all gone, forced out by the scandal. Yet Evans, the Chief Executive and man responsible for all aspects of the club, apparently sees no need to do the honourable thing and, like Jillings, resign. Such bloody-minded intransigence tells us a lot about Evans as a person.

No matter that the greatest scandal probably ever to hit rugby in Britain has burst around his ears, generated from within his own club on his watch. Evans headed off on holiday, to France it is said, where doubtless the sunshine and sunflowers have brightened his mood.

Sunflowers are known as 'Les tournesols' because they turn their heads towards the sun. Unfortunately, Evans has long since acquired a reputation for turning his away from the heat. A sort of 'hear no evil, see no evil' kind of policy...

In this respect, Evans is matched by those who run European Rugby Ltd, the organisation that controls the ERC competitions, the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup. Even now, after weeks of gory, intensely depressing detail about how the Harlequins tried to cheat their way into the semi-final of last season's Heineken Cup and then senior officials at the club either lied or tried to persuade one of their players to take the full rap for suitable financial recompense, no decision has been taken to expel the club from this season's Heineken Cup.

All honest and good rugby folk throughout the countries of the British Isles and Ireland can see, and have seen for weeks, that Harlequins' participation in this year's competition, and indeed next year's, is totally untenable. Their very presence would maintain the slur, the stain with which they have so damaged the game and the Heineken Cup.

Yet still ERC's weak, craven officials struggle to find the courage to do what all impartial rugby folk say is inevitable: throw Harlequins out of the tournament.

We are surely entitled to ask, whose interests are these ERC people representing? Certainly not the good of the game, nor that of the sponsors, Heineken. It cannot be in Heineken's interests to see themselves sponsoring a competition this year and next which contains a club found guilty of gross cheating. I would wager that in just about any other walk of life, save politics, a decision would long since have been made to exclude them.

Can ERC not see the damage their procrastination is doing, to their own reputations, to the reputations of the sponsors and the reputation of the game itself? Do they not understand that such wilful behaviour cannot possibly be 'rewarded' with a place in Europe's No. 1 club and provincial rugby competition?

Doubtless, both Evans and ERC have both hoped, for many long nights and weeks, that the stench from this foul affair would mysteriously disappear, simply vanish as quickly as possible to save themselves the inevitable decisions they must make.

I can tell them both, that has not happened now and it is not going to happen unless and until both take the tough decisions staring them in the face. Evans, as part of the devious Harlequins hierarchy that played a role in this scandal, has to resign and ERC, as upholders not just of the good name of their own competition but also that of their sponsors and the game itself, have to act at last and expel Harlequins for two years.

The game itself, not to mention untold thousands of its followers, demands no less.

Rugby needs people like this, and acts as devious as this, like a hole in the head. Imagine if this had been soccer, a sport in which the leading European organisation UEFA takes immediate action even when a single player makes a silly, unwarranted dive.

Yet rugby shows itself reluctant to punish even systematic cheating of this kind, which involved the club not once but on at least four previous occasions. The very fact that the truth has had to be dragged out of Harlequins over a prolonged period of time tells you about the morals and values of certain individuals at that club. Frankly, both they and their morals are incompatible with a sport such as this.

If rugby union, ERC and the Harlequins club are to salvage any shred of future dignity from this grotesque affair, two key decisions have to be made this week. Evans, as Chief Executive of the club, has to go and Harlequins have to be ejected from Europe.

Anything less would be an on-going stain on the name of both the competition and the club itself.