Getting stuck into the admin scrum

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The Independent Online
I think the tragedy of the Will Carling story is that the irresponsible statement of the young English captain may well have blighted the hitherto glittering career of Dennis Easby, who until this unfortunate incident had been one of our finest administrators.

As an admin man, Dennis Easby seemed to have everything. Invisible, anonymous, hard-working, unknown, uncharismatic, pedantic and a senior citizen of unimpeachable grammar and sentence construction, Dennis Easby had moulded the administration of rugby union in this country into one of the greyest and most conservative bureaucratic teams the world has ever known.

It certainly looked as if the Rugby Football Union could have swept the board at the forthcoming "Well, chaps, where does rugby go from here, then? Yes, a bit of milk and no sugar, thanks" world discussions at which the English were tipped to be the master spoilers and prevaricators, and many experts were expecting Dennis Easby to be the triumphant English leader who would ascend the steps to the trophy table and hold up the cup on which were engraved the immortal words: "A statement will be issued in due course, thank you very much, no further comment ..."

Now, thanks to the irresponsible and thoughtless action of young Will Carling in speaking his mind honestly, that dream may be over for Dennis Easby.

But let us start at the beginning. Let us go back to the Channel 4 programme which started all the trouble. This was the programme, you will remember, on which Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, set all hell loose by saying that the RFU was dedicated to one thing and one thing alone: protecting the role of amateurism in rugby.

For the rest of the programme the nation sat in amazement as it gradually dawned on them that what Dudley Wood was talking about was not amateurism on the field of play, but amateurism in administration.

The same is also true in tennis and cricket, of course, but it is above all in rugby union that British administrators can pride themselves on being thoroughly unprofessional. They are not in this for the money or for the kudos. They are in this for the sheer love of administration.

Admin to them is a way of life. Give them a committee to sit on, or a guarded statement to issue, or a decision to postpone, or a muddled compromise to arrive at, and they are as happy as mudlarks.

Criticise them, and they will say in their own defence that they are not in this for the money, but for the love of the game. What they forget to tell you is that the name of the game is administration.

It is significant that no top-class rugby player goes into the RFU to help run the game. Why should he?

He has already, by the time he gets to his thirties, got the most enjoyment out of the game. It is now time for him to get out of rugby and rejoin the real world.

Oh, he may take part in some television sports quizzes and use the filthy stories he has heard in the privacy of the scrum in order to fuel some after-dinner speeches, but he is, to all intents and purposes, now out of rugby. Why should he embrace committee existence when he has survived the excitement of jungle life in the scrum?

An administrator, on the other hand, is hardly getting into his stride at 30. He may not mature until he is past 60. The speed at which a rugby administrator moves towards a decision means that he is going to need a whole lifetime to get going. Some rugby administrators never make even one big decision.

The life-cycle of a rugby administrator is quite different from that of a rugby player. David Attenborough would find it hard to believe that they even belonged to the same species.

That is why the six men who took the decision to sack Will Carling had an average age of 60 or more and why three of them were lawyers or solicitors, the law being yet one more form of bureaucracy and administration. They are people, that is, with no discernible function in life except that of administration.

Dennis Easby seems to be an advanced specimen of this life form. Not just a solicitor, he is a retired solicitor. Not just 60, he is 70. He was the linesman 30 years ago at an All Blacks game, and does not seem to have done much on the rugby pitch since then.

He is, in other words, just coming into his prime as a rugby administrator. He is at the very peak of his career as a nobody. And now Will Carling, by one thoughtless word, has threatened all that.

There is nothing for it.

One of them will have to go.