LEADING ARTICLE:Rugby scores a late conversion

Share
Related Topics
Rugby Union long ago jumped out of the last ditch of amateurism, even though the sport's authorities could never bring themselves to acknowledge what had happened. So it should scarcely have been a surprise that the game's governing body, the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB), abandoned the concept altogether when it met in Paris at the weekend.

More unexpected was that the IRFB, which has for years been indecisive and stuffy in resisting commercial realities, went all the way and accepted outright professionalism. This is a revolution. Rugby Union is the last of the television box-office sports to leap from the Corinthianism with which they all began into a harsher world in which leading players, far from playing for love, now play for money.

It has taken a long time: 100 years ago tomorrow the Northern Union, precursor of the Rugby League, was formed as a breakaway from Rugby Union over a rather less radical dispute about reimbursing players for wages lost through playing. And in Paris yesterday one could not avoid the impression that the administrators summoned up their courage through necessity rather than conviction.

This is a pity. The reform is a natural and probably inevitable development. It is, after all, Rugby Union itself which, thanks to its apparently unstoppable commercial success, created pressure for change, in particular from the players on whom it made ever-increasing demands without having to fork out a penny-piece. Eventually, that pressure became irresistible.

The IRFB and the rugby unions that now run the sport in 67 countries worldwide should have moved earlier so that they dictated the pace of change, and managed the reform, rather than merely reacting to events.

Instead of acknowledging that professionalism was not only acceptable but also just, the IRFB watched in horror as rival media magnates either bought into the game for vast sums (Rupert Murdoch in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) or tried to take the sport over completely (Kerry Packer with his abortive attempt to set up a rival international establishment).

Indeed, if the IRFB had not given way yesterday, many of its constituent rugby unions would have acted unilaterally, if only to stop the now-discredited Packer circus.

Now the players suddenly hold the bargaining power and they will certainly use it to the authorities' discomfiture. The England players, for instance, already promised around pounds 40,000 a year by their own rugby union, will now want the money in direct payments - unequivocally a salary - rather than in the form of trust funds as was agreed only last week when the Paris meeting was expected to stop short of sanctioning outright pay-for- play.

Most people knew years ago that this day would come. It was clear once sponsorship attracted millions of pounds and players were expected to train every week to play for England half-a-dozen times a year. Regrettably, the IRFB, comprising the very people who should have known best, remained longest in the dark.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape