■ Game that shoud be about com­mu­nity is all about the money

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - – Matt Williams

For more than a cen­tury both Ire­land and Italy’s great­est ex­port was peo­ple. Flee­ing crush­ing poverty, hunger, po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and so­cial big­otry, mil­lions, who were with­out hope in their na­tive lands, left their fam­i­lies and homes. Spilling onto over­crowded boats, risk­ing their all to sail the oceans, in the des­per­ate search of a bet­ter life.

They car­ried with them only hope, be­cause noth­ing could be as hope­less as their home coun­try. To Amer­ica, Ar­gentina, Canada, Aus­tralia and New Zealand they fled in their mil­lions, bring­ing lit­tle more than the clothes on their backs.

Life was as hard as the sun-baked roads of western New South Wales and as un­re­lent­ing as the grind­ing fac­tory life of the Chica­gos mills. The en­vi­ron­ments in which the Ir­ish and the Ital­ians found them­selves, were as alien to their mother lands as Guinness is to Chi­anti.

Two things tossed the Ir­ish and Ital­ians to­gether. Their shared ver­sion of vil­lage Catholi­cism and the des­per­ate need to make a “buck”. The one as­set they both pos­sessed was to phys­i­cally work harder than any hu­mans should, to de­velop the schemes to grab enough money to feed them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

Mak­ing money

Rugby was not part of Ital­ian or Ir­ish mi­grant life, but mak­ing money by al­most any means was.

As the grand­son of “church mice poor” Ir­ish emi­grants, I have heard the sto­ries, seen the scars and wit­nessed the sac­ri­fices. My­self, my broth­ers and cousins have ben­e­fited from them. How many times have we heard the cliché, “a bet­ter life for our chil­dren and grand chil­dren”. The trou­ble with clichés is that mostly they are true.

To­day in Chicago, the two com­mu­ni­ties once again come to­gether for the sim­ple pur­pose of mak­ing money.

The fact that the hard-earned green­backs of the grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren of the orig­i­nal mi­grants, will be lib­er­ated back to the mother lands of those emi­grants is ironic.The orig­i­nal mi­grants would ad­mire the orig­i­nal­ity of the deal.

Let’s preach the gospel of rugby to the Amer­i­can hea­thens – when the real mo­ti­va­tion is to make a buck. Get some filthy lu­cre. Grab the Bugs Bunny money. Make and take some dough.

There is noth­ing wrong with mak­ing money. It sits very close to the heart of both the Ir­ish and the Ital­ians. Es­pe­cially in the “home of the brave” mar­ket forces and the land of the “not free” uni­ver­sal health cover. God bless Amer­ica.

As a won­der­fully prag­matic Marist brother said to me many years ago: “Money is the root of all evil . . . and the base of all progress. How much do you need?”

I low­balled him and he agreed straight away. Sec­ond les­son he taught me was: “You do not get what you’re worth, you only get what you can ne­go­ti­ate.” I ne­go­ti­ated poorly. The IRFU and the Ital­ian fed­er­a­tion have fol­lowed the ad­vice of my dear Marist brother friend. They know there is a mar­ket, heav­ing with the Ir­ish and Ital­ian di­as­pora, and sep­a­rat­ing them from their dol­lars is a wor­thy and well ne­go­ti­ated goal.

So let’s not pre­tend that this game is an evan­gel­i­cal rugby cause. No Sex­ton, O’Ma­hony, Earls, Best, Kear­ney or Stander. It’s about mak­ing money.

The IRFU has it writ­ten, bold as gold, in its new strate­gic plan. Eighty per cent of all rugby in­come in Ire­land comes from the funds gen­er­ated by the men’s na­tional team, while it only uses 12.5 per cent of the cost.

Won­der­ful com­mu­nity

So let’s keep that theme go­ing. Rugby in the USA needs money. I am very for­tu­nate to have been a guest coach at a univer­sity in Mary­land and en­tered into their won­der­ful rugby com­mu­nity. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, rugby in the USA has a huge grass­roots fol­low­ing but it is fi­nan­cially crip­pled. Amer­i­can rugby is also hand­i­capped by the vast­ness of the coun­try.

The dis­tances be­tween teams across their re­gions is so great, they reg­u­larly travel seven or eight hours to games.The peo­ple who run the clubs, schools and uni­ver­si­ties are pas­sion­ate and love rugby. They re­minded me what a rugby com­mu­nity gives to their team. In giv­ing to their team, they are re­warded in re­turn.

That has al­ways been the case in rugby. We started to for­get this when the game went pro­fes­sional. Peo­ple started to ask “what can I take from the game? In­stead of, “what can I give to the game?”

In the heart of Amer­i­can rugby, the peo­ple are giv­ing, not tak­ing. Coaches wash the teams jer­seys, par­ents sup­ply food for the long travel. Former play­ers donate cash to buy rugby balls, play­ers pay for their jer­sey. Ref­er­ees help to put up the goal­posts in sub­ur­ban parks prior to matches. They all give to the game.

I am sure both the Ir­ish and the Ital­ian rugby teams will give their all at Soldier Field. Sadly the event be­tween the two in­ter­na­tional teams, rep­re­sent­ing the an­ces­tral homes of mil­lions of their di­as­pora, has all the trap­pings of a Wall Street cor­po­rate raider.

In a game that used to be about giv­ing to the com­mu­nity, the lo­cal Amer­i­can rugby com­mu­nity has come last.

‘‘ Let’s not pre­tend that this game is an evan­gel­i­cal rugby cause. No Sex­ton, O’Ma­hony, Earls, Best, Kear­ney or Stander. It’s about mak­ing money

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