Years of inertia behind Scotland's week of turmoil

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The Independent Online

When the game went professional, Scotland did not. Of the established rugby nations, the Scots were the least prepared and the slowest to react to the momentous leap, and the political meltdown last week has been a long time coming.

When the game went professional, Scotland did not. Of the established rugby nations, the Scots were the least prepared and the slowest to react to the momentous leap, and the political meltdown last week has been a long time coming.

Boiling point arrived with the departure of David Mackay, the chairman of the Scottish Rugby Union, closely followed by the resignation of Phil Anderton, the chief executive. Anderton became the fifth to leave the SRU's executive board after the general committee passed a vote of no confidence in Mackay. The roles could be reversed at a special general meeting on 30 January when the clubs debate a strategic review.

The report, the most comprehensive in Scotland's history, was implemented by Mackay and Anderton and contains recommendations concerning money and power, which triggered the committee into their pre-emptive strike. There is a proposal for clubs and players to pay an affiliation fee to the SRU, described by opponents as "neither desirable nor operable'', but the key move is for the executive to take over the day-to-day running of the game from the committee.

Ten members of the 14-man committee voted to oust Mackay, but this is not as democratic as it looks. There are 136 full-member clubs of the SRU, and 71 are represented by men who support Mackay. Only a handful of clubs, including Biggar, have publicly endorsed the anti-Mackay line. Bill Watson, of Biggar, lost his job as chief executive of the SRU last November. If the clubs vote at the end of the month the committee could find itself disenfranchised.

"The removal of David Mackay and the resignation of directors is scandalous and a crisis for Scottish rugby,'' Anderton said. "I am not prepared to work under this regime. The complete lack of consultation is unacceptable. It's all about who runs the game.''

The last person leaving Murrayfield should not switch off the lights but pick up the phone to Francis Baron and David Moffett, who run the game in England and Wales. Both countries have been through similar revolutions and the transfer of power from committees to the full-time executives. The difference between England and Scotland is that the RFU were not strapped for cash and the national team were successful.

In Scotland, what brought about the strategic review was the shocking state of professional rugby. Last season the Scots were whitewashed in the Six Nations and Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Borders can make no impression in Europe or the Celtic League. As the vicious circle is completed, attendances have been sliding, and when the second Test against Australia last autumn was played at Hampden Park fewer than 30,000 tickets were sold.

The performances of the professional teams have left Ian McGeechan, Scotland's director of rugby, who is in favour of concentrating the players in a so-called "élite environment", exposed and vulnerable, and he is not alone. England have an English coach, Wales a Welshman and Ireland an Irishman. Scotland have Matt Williams, an Australian, and Willie Anderson, an Irishman. Williams's record is two wins from 12, but he is contracted until the next World Cup, in 2007.

''I don't understand why we are still having this argument 10 years after professionalism arrived,'' Finlay Calder, the former Scotland captain, said. "This is terrible news for every level of Scottish rugby. I thought that if anybody could transform the negative atmosphere and rising debt it was David Mackay. He's been driven out by people who seem happier waging war than addressing the central issue that professional rugby can't be run by amateurs.''

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