Rules and code of ethics far too blurred

Weekend Herald - - Your Sporting Weekend - Gre­gor Paul

Some­thing has clearly gone wrong when pro­fes­sional club rugby, where jobs are con­stantly on the line and the sys­tem is geared on the per­form-oryou’re-out phi­los­o­phy, is the purest form of the game.

Su­per Rugby is cold and bru­tal. Play­ers are bought and sold. Coaches are hired and fired, and yet at the mo­ment, the trans­parency of its cul­ture and clar­ity of bound­aries make it the most trust­wor­thy and least cyn­i­cal com­po­nent of the rugby land­scape.

It shouldn’t be like this. Schools rugby should be the purest form of the game where the de­sire to win is in­tense but man­aged within an eth­i­cal code.

It has al­ways been the place where both the let­ter and spirit of the law mat­ter and schools haven’t pre­vi­ously en­cour­aged play­ers to look for ways to push the rules to the limit.

What we have seen in the past few years is a pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of school­boy rugby in Auck­land but with­out the trans­par­ent rules and le­gal con­trac­tual con­straints that hold Su­per Rugby to­gether.

So it has be­come a hor­ri­ble mess where some schools have been strong enough to en­tirely re­ject all forms of re­cruit­ment, oth­ers have changed their think­ing to some ex­tent and one has de­cided any­thing goes and is buy­ing suc­cess at al­most any cost.

The pu­rity of it has been con­tam­i­nated and no one is dumb enough to stand on the side­lines of a school­boys game these days and be­lieve they are see­ing a fair con­test.

And it’s much the same at the other end of the spec­trum where in­ter­na­tional rugby has be­come im­pure and cyn­i­cal and just as mis­guided on the no­tion of re­cruit­ment.

It’s a pre­pos­ter­ous no­tion that in­ter­na­tional rugby teams can have re­cruit­ment strate­gies, and yet they do. Much like schools, they no longer feel they should be re­stricted to se­lect­ing only from their catch­ment.

The sit­u­a­tion in the in­ter­na­tional game is murkier and more com­plex than in schools rugby and more emo­tive, which is why the nub of one par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing and con­tentious is­sue con­tin­u­ally gets missed.

Through­out Novem­ber, there was a near xeno­pho­bic fo­cus on where play­ers were born, as if that in it­self proved the flawed ethics of cer­tain na­tions.

It didn’t at all. We live in a mo­bile world where peo­ple have greater free­dom to move for work or ed­u­ca­tion.

Where the moral com­pass has gone off course is in the spe­cific busi­ness of tar­get­ing what are called project play­ers and of­fer­ing them club con­tracts that are fi­nan­cially topped up by the na­tional union.

For­mer Chiefs player Bundee Aki is in Ire­land on one of these con­tracts. He was iden­ti­fied in 2014 as a player of in­ter­est by the Ir­ish na­tional se­lec­tors who fore­cast that once he qual­i­fied un­der the three-year res­i­dency rul­ing, he’d be ex­actly the sort of player they would need in their mid­field.

Lur­ing Aki, an al­ready wellde­vel­oped pro­fes­sional player in his early 20s, with a ma­jor fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive and strong hint of a test jer­sey be­ing on of­fer, is pre­cisely the sort of strat­egy that many pun­dits feel cor­rodes the cred­i­bil­ity of test foot­ball.

That is tar­geted re­cruit­ment of an­other coun­try’s play­ers and is essen­tially a case of buy­ing some­one’s na­tion­al­ity.

When this point was made when the All Blacks were in Ire­land last month, there was a pre­dictable del­uge of ac­cu­sa­tions that New Zealand has been poach­ing Pa­cific Is­land play­ers for decades and there­fore had no right to any higher moral ground.

But surely ev­ery­one can see the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Tu­un­gafasi fam­ily em­i­grat­ing to New Zealand from Tonga in search of what they hoped would be greater eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties when Ofa was an in­fant and the Ir­ish Rugby Union putting a mas­sive con­tract in front of a pro­fes­sional rugby player who was al­ready show­ing signs of be­ing good enough to play test foot­ball?

There is surely also an ac­cep­tance that Ta­maki Col­lege of­fer­ing Vaea Fi­fita a schol­ar­ship when he was 16 is not the All Blacks raid­ing the Is­lands for play­ers.

The All Blacks have ben­e­fited from de­ci­sions schools across New Zealand have made in re­gard to giv­ing places to boys liv­ing in the Is­lands, but again, this isn’t New Zealand Rugby con­duct­ing an or­ches­trated re­cruit­ment plan.

Such a stance poi­sons test rugby as much as the na­tion­wide schol­ar­ship regime of St Kentigern Col­lege has dam­aged the per­cep­tion of fair­ness in school­boy rugby.

So here we are now with a bro­ken Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion that as much as it is hard to love, does at least have the abil­ity to be fair in the sense that ev­ery team is gov­erned by the same rules and code of ethics.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.