In an age of professionalism, there is always the danger that the heart and soul of sport can get lost. This is especially true with Rugby Union. A sport that turned professional only 17 years ago in 1995 has quickly grown to be a box office hit in the countries where it’s played. This has provided many improvements within the game such as better coaching and facilities as well as a rise in participation numbers. However, along the way, the true values of Rugby appear to be losing prominence.
These values of determination, friendship, respect and playing for the love of the game are the basis on which nearly 190 years of Rugby tradition have been built on. Professionalism as good as it has been for the sport in general, is making rugby union into something which it is not.
Players who graduate onto the professional level appear to be losing these values…Especially when they transfer over from Rugby League, where the values of ‘their’ game seem to be non-existent.
Now I am going to get slated for that very statement, but this is exactly how I feel about the sport. Every time I have switched on to a game, some sort of fight breaks out. In England, the Super League is shown at 7-30 on Friday night, it seems that the only reason for the Friday night broadcast is to entertain those folks who can’t be bothered to make it out of their homes to witness closing time at some of the rougher pubs around.
Union is on a slippery slope to this sort of behaviour. I am not for a second saying that the game has never had its fair share of handbags; however it does seem as if this is becoming more and more prevalent within professional rugby. The danger is if the pros are doing it, then the amateurs will start too.
If that happens, what is the point of playing the game? The game at club level was traditionally seen to be character building and to engage in friendship. If these are lost, then the very basis of rugby will be lost and all that will remain is a monstrous money making machine. Yes, commercially the national Unions and professional clubs will be pleased, however, what of the smaller clubs and unions? Some of whom have produced outstanding players over the course of rugby history.
Take the King Country Union in New Zealand, they only produced the great Colin Meads, a man widely regarded to be the greatest All Black in history. Today King Country has no hope of nurturing great All Black talent due to the restructuring of New Zealand provincial rugby in 2006 which places them in the amateur Heartland Championship, thus ensuring they will never compete amongst the ‘Big Boys’ of NZ rugby again. This is a sad state of affairs where good honest, traditional rugby has been usurped by the commercial and professional game.
Both the amateur and professional circuits can co-exist peacefully. For this to happen, smaller unions need to be allowed the chance to the chance to nurture young promising talent rather than having to allow them to be poached by larger ones, sometimes it is better for a young player to be nurtured softly before exposing them to the professional game. These Unions should be provided with the funding to be able to generate the mass interest in the sport and rugby culture in general which in turn leads to a better game for those not just participating, but also those fans watching the professional circuit.
It is simply all about balance.