Friday, September 04, 2009

Bloodgate: Capitalism corrupts rugby

A scandal like the recent one at Harlequins RFC, where a player elaborately faked an injury according to a plan drawn up by the manager so that a key drop kicker could come on to try to score the points needed to win, was bound to happen sooner or later after the game went “professional”.

When the game was amateur – still in living memory – this sort of thing would never have happened. But now rugby clubs are profit-seeking businesses and players are not just paid but paid bonuses if they win.

My father was the secretary of the Newbridge Rugby Football Club which at the time – the 50s and 60s – was one of the top 16 rugby clubs in South Wales. He was in fact the “Hon. Secretary”, that is the unpaid secretary – which is already a significant fact in that none of the club’s officials were paid; all were volunteers elected by the club’s members at the annual general meeting and carrying out their duties in their spare time. This was the same in the other clubs too. Not any more. Rugby clubs are now profit-seeking businesses run by professional executives.

The players weren’t paid either – OK, occasionally they might find money in their boots as “expenses”. As in all the other clubs in what were then mining valleys, they worked or lived locally. In other words, they were playing for enjoyment and for recognition from the community in which they lived. Not any more. Rugby players today are like paid gladiators, recruited from all over the world with no connection with the area where the business which employs them is situated.

There were no league tables, so every match was what in football is called a “friendly”. In other words, all that was at stake was the outcome of the particular match. Teams played to win of course, but if they lost that was that, there was no other consequence. The top 16 clubs didn’t play just against each other, but also against other, smaller clubs from their local area. Even the most prestigious among the 16 such as Cardiff, Newport and Swansea were prepared to do this.

In short, the game – which was the team sport followed by most workers in South Wales – was free from monetary or commercial considerations. It hadn’t yet been “commodified”. Then the rot set in. It began (at least in my opinion) with the introduction of league tables. This can be argued against since there is nothing inherently commercial about league tables (we could conceive of them existing in socialism and they are also part of the amateur game), but they still meant that, from then on, matches were no longer “friendlies”, and I still say that a friendly is played in a quite different spirit from a league match. Basically, leagues matches are more competitive. Which was why in fact they were introduced.

In any event, the real rot set in when the game became professional. This resulted from international rugby having become a spectator sport. In other words, it had already become a potential commodity from which those with money could make a profit. From then on it’s been downhill all the way, with the Harlequins scandal as the inevitable result. There’ll be more to come, as has long been the case in professional soccer and cricket.

Capitalism is the opposite of Midas. Everything Midas touched turned to gold. Everything capitalism touches turns to crap.


1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

The Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland with over 1 million members in 2,600 clubs is still going stong as an amateur democratic organised sporting organisation . Its players are amateurs,unlike football, clubs cannot be bought and sold and there are no private club owners,and on the administrative side, club members elect an executive committee to carry out the running of the club on an annual basis while at the higher echelons of the GAA, such members must vacate their post after four years.
Dr David Hassan of the University of Ulster explains "At a community level, local competent professional people who are sympathetic to the GAA often do administrative jobs, such as a local accountant becoming club treasurer.The clubs and games are based in the community and operate on behalf of those people who are based in the community. If the grass roots say some policy proposal is a move in the wrong direction, the administrators cannot just say - as may be the case in English soccer - 'This is just business'."