Another View: Fair play for rugby amateurs

Click to follow
The Independent Online
At the time of writing I have not seen the programme Fair Game, which was shown on Channel 4 last night. I understand that in it Will Carling, the England captain, calls for an end to amateurism in rugby union and says: "If the game is run properly as a professional game, you don't need 57 old farts running rugby." My reaction to this, if correct,is disbelief and disappointment.

I can only assume the programme was made some time ago as it certainly does not reflect the current situation, but that does not excuse collective abuse if reports are correct.

At a meeting last Friday, the new executive, recommended by the Bishop Commission, was elected. This has nearer 15 members than 57. It has executive powers and will run the Rugby Football Union without constantly having to refer to the "57". At the same meeting, the RFU committee accepted that the national squad did not wish to become contracted professionals but there should be a partnership between the RFU and the national squad in respect of the squad's commercial activities.

A small working party with members drawn from the RFU committee, the team management and the national squad, chaired by Malcolm Phillips, a past England player, has produced and agreed a proposal to generate increased reward for the players. We were anxious that this was in place before the World Cup - hence my disappointment at Fair Game's timing.

I don't know where the figures quoted were taken from, but our revenue account and balance sheet are published annually and sent to every club and international player. All monies are ploughed back into the game and our youth development programme is the envy of many sports. I cannot believe the comment, if true, attributed to Rob Andrew, the England outside- half: "It is probably the only multi-million-pound business that does not pay its employees." I didn't realise we had any - apart from administrative and ground staff.

I agree it is very difficult to defend amateurism in the modern game, but I still firmly believe it is a sport for people in full-time occupations or, if you like, who have other jobs. None of us would like the game dominated by commercial forces, which could dictate terms and conditions. We would lose control to the detriment of all players and clubs alike.

Why is it that on most, in fact on virtually all, television programmes involving rugby union, only one side of the equation is put out. We have enjoyed great success in the past decade, and the players and management have played major roles - but they have been given a sound base on which to work.

There is a deep feeling of goodwill in this country for rugby, built up by many people over a long period with time given freely. We ignore that at our peril.

Old age has a habit of catching up with everyone. Let's have a little respect, boys.

The writer is vice-president of the Rugby Football Union.