Scrum down over money

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
The sport's governing body, the International Rugby Board, heads into a landmark meeting in Paris today on professionalism with its chairman - and host - Bernard Lapasset predicting a fiery few days.

"It will be a long and animated discussion," he said. "But discussion is not enough. We must debate but above all we must take steps.

"We must answer the following questions: who owns the sport and who runs it? What is the definition of amateurism today? How can we involve the players in the promotion of rugby today?"

The French federation boss said he had written to the world's rugby leaders asking them to come to Paris with a clear mandate from their unions.

The eight major rugby union nations - England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa - will each send two representatives to Paris with the four associate members - Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan - sending one.

One of the main problems for the IRB will be to find a compromise between strong advocates of tradition, such as Ireland, and countries from the southern hemisphere, such as South Africa, who seem in favour of some form of professionalism. "Amateurism no longer exists. It is a fact and money has now become a reality in this sport. But we must beware of an evolution towards outright professionalism, in which players would play rugby for a living," Lapasset said.

After the huge success of the World Cup in South Africa, it was the clash between Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer's World Rugby Corproation for the control of television rights which obsessed the sport. Those in the northern hemisphere did not take any immediate steps but the French captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, summed up the attitude of European players by saying he and his international team mates would go where the money was.

"We knew there would have to be a transition from so-called amateurism towards professionalism," said the South African Rugby Football Union chief executive, Edward Griffiths. "The problem is that the WRC thing forced us to do so in a state of panic."

During their deliberations this week, delegates will know that the very credibility of the IRB is at stake.