Peter Bills: Self-centred sportsmen make me sick

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The Independent Online

Sometimes, simple words uttered by self-centred sportsmen, make you feel sick.

Listen to this bleating phrase from former Bath & England flanker Michael Lipman, incensed that his proposed move to the new Super 15 outfit Melbourne Rebels, has been blocked by the Australian Rugby Union.

Lipman, just in case you are wondering, is one of the four Bath players who were banned from the game for failing to take a drug test, following allegations of drug taking at a Bath player event. Justin Harrison, the Australian lock forward, bravely rushed to Heathrow airport and scuttled onto a homeward flight to Sydney, allegedly rather than face the music.

A rat deserting the holed ship, perhaps?

Wing Andrew Higgins is said to have packed up the game, centre Alex Crockett has served his eight-month ban and signed for Bristol and Lipman re-emerged publicly last week. The trio were all banned after twice refusing to take a test that could have cleared their names.

The analogy of sewage water eventually coming to the surface, springs to mind. But I doubt whether even that would raise the nauseous type of stink created by Lipman's words last week.

"It's my life. It's my career" cried Lipman, upon hearing the news.

An unfortunate choice of words, those, given the circumstances... I do not recall the player uttering them amid the storm that broke over the alleged drug taking affair. Back then, he was fully prepared to put refusing to take a drug test comfortably ahead of "his life, his career". One wonders why? Surely he couldn't have had anything to hide. Could he?

To hear sub-standard people like this trying to regain rugby's moral high ground, is revolting. I just wish that Messrs Crockett and Lipman would crawl away to the place of disgrace where Higgins has presumably gone, and stop continuing to stain the good name of this game that gave them such riches and prestige they once enjoyed a handsome lifestyle.

No thought, then, by Mr. Lipman for "my life, my career". Presumably, he just took it all without a second thought, and indulged in whatever way he thought fit. So now, to cry about his life and career being at stake just because someone in Australia has woken up to the fact that hiring another guy who refused to take a drugs test would send just about the worst possible message to the game and young people in that country, is pathetic.

But 'another' guy? Oh yes. It is not for the Australian Rugby Union to feel sanctimonious, to go anywhere near that increasingly deserted sporting moral high ground. For the very same organisation that this week told Lipman they didn't want him playing in Australian rugby, was the one that sanctioned the return of another member of the so-called 'Bath 4', Justin Harrison, to the game in that country with Super 14 outfit, the Brumbies.

Surely Harrison was not re-admitted because he was Australian? Or was his return a reward for his quick thinking in fleeing the UK and getting home and going to ground as fast as possible, when the furore broke? Surely not?

Either way, it seems a curious contradiction of principles that the Australian Rugby Union allows Harrison to play whilst telling Lipman to clear off. Mind you, it is not for Lipman to bleat and cry 'foul' over so bizarre a decision. He long since forfeited the right to hold anyone to account by his behaviour while at Bath.

For a player who had represented Bath and England to act as he did damaged the great name and jersey of both club and country. The game worldwide would be better off if he packed it up. But then, the same applies to Harrison who continues to draw a doubtless handsome stipendiary from his franchise for his services.

Like sewage water, the whole affair continues to turn your stomach.


Thank goodness, there are still plenty of young men in rugby union worldwide fully aware of what they owe this sport and their maker and, therefore, constantly thankful for the great gifts bestowed upon them.

Last week in Cape Town, I talked to a couple of them. The hot sun of the South African Western Cape beat down; the setting, in the shadow of Table Mountain, was exquisite.

Perhaps it was the latter that invoked a frank, soul searching self analysis by the New Zealand All Blacks half back. Whatever it was, Jimmy Cowan, captain of Super 14 franchise The Highlanders, spoke revealingly about a sporting passion in which he revels. Cowan is a player who has had his personal problems in the past. But he's fought through them and maybe learned some valuable lessons.

"We are getting paid to do something we love. I have heard a lot of people say they didn't realise until they packed up the game, then sat back and reflected just how much it meant to them. I think it's critical to take a few minutes each day to sit down and think how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing.

"I love Cape Town as a place and this is the 12th time I've been here. How fortunate is that"?

A few days later, Springbok wing Bryan Habana, who joined the Cape Town Super 14 side The Stormers this season, told me something similar.

"I feel blessed by what I have been given and I don't ever forget that" he said. "To be able to play this game successfully and, even more, to be regarded as some sort of role model by a lot of youngsters, is a very humbling thing for me."

All a far cry from the self-centred attitude of a Michael Lipman, you may think.