The future is under threat – a strike may be the answer
I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I know this much: it is only a matter of time before the next big battle between the independently run clubs on the one hand and the governing bodies on the other. Without political vision and diplomatic sure-footedness on the part of the various stakeholders: administrators, owners, coaches, players; the non-alignment of interests and inherent conflicts at the heart of the two biggest rugby nations, England and France, could easily bring the entire sport to its knees. It is plain to see that the most powerful European clubs are attempting to minimise their overlaps with the international programme, hence the muscleflexing over the most recent attempts to bring the northern and southern hemispheres together in a “global” season.
Can we blame the Bruce Craigs and Nigel Wrays of this world if they’re running out of steam with the idea that Bath and Saracens should meet on serious Premiership business on a Test weekend, without their major box office attractions? Of course not.
These people have funnelled vast amounts of money into rugby union: it must have cost Nigel well over £25million if it’s cost him a penny and he still spends an unhealthy chunk of the season watching his team play important fixtures while stripped bare of their top-of-the-bill attractions.
Yet it is equally true to say that the calendar year consists of 52 weeks, not 72 weeks.
The most you can squeeze into a
pint pot is a pint. Until that changes, which it won’t, there will always be more rugby to be played than there is time to play it in.
Unless, of course, someone makes a sacrifice by giving ground, which is not something we have seen too often in the last 20 years.
To a large extent, professional rugby union is a victim of its own progress.
The game I played in the closing decade of the amateur era was completely different from the one we watch and marvel at today.
Yet despite that, we continue to demand more of the players: more rugby in more months of the year, played at ever-higher velocity, at ever-greater risk to life and limb. The reason?
No one wants to cut back on the number of matches because matches mean money.
I am not one of life’s natural revolutionaries – even though I loved my time on the barricades at Newcastle – but there is a part of me that wonders if the situation can possibly be resolved without some form of industrial action from the workers who provide the entertainment.
Indeed, I do not believe we are watching a fight for total power any longer: in English and French terms, that battle was lost by both sides a good while ago.
Where rugby finds itself now is in the early stages of a conflict over the nature of the compromise – a scrap for viability.
Without compromise, the rugby union model worldwide will be under threat.