One simple question keeps popping up in my head: is Scottish rugby out of touch with World Sport?
Look at the international incidents currently dominating the headlines. World football’s governing body, FIFA, are lauded as a force possibly as corrupt as a Silvio Berlusconi-led government or any ITV ‘talent’ contest. Right now they are being lambasted in the press for alleged endemic corruption, as bribes are said to win World Cup votes, computers and cash are suspected to win favour for Soccer oligarch Sepp Blatter and all the while everything is dealt with in-house because FIFA statute ensures this.
Also in the last couple of days there has been the playoff final to see which Championship club got promoted into the English ‘Barclays Premier League’ in a contest touted as “the richest game in sport”.
I apologise for using 2 football examples but they both show how behind the times Scottish rugby is.
The Scottish Rugby Union, you see, has some similarities with FIFA (**PLEASE NOTE! I am in no way accusing the SRU of corruption, or indeed FIFA!**). What I mean by this is that the Chief Executive, Gordon McKie, has seen presidents come and go and has been at the top for a while, now. He is alleged to command a massive salary and he is involved in all rugby decisions, be it the selection of Edinburgh’s new head coach or the setting of targets for Andy Robinson.
According to fans in both cases the head of the organisation is someone who knows little about their sport. Both, however, seem protected; no one can knock them off their perch or replace them. Perhaps, deep down, no one wants the excruciating hassle or the splendid isolation.
In this respect the SRU is just like the governing body of the world’s most popular team sport. The group is exclusive and insular, impossible to escape unless you are forced out, and the head has extreme control. Committees are needed to make any decision, maybe even hand-picked sometimes, and everything must move up to be cleared.
It is not a new claim that EH12 is filled with stuffed shirts and the blazerati that has a nostalgic view of rugby. In the same way the hopeless romantics at FIFA poo-poo any call for goal-line technology (bizarre, because if the allegations of bribery are true, wouldn’t tech companies be offering competing ‘incentives’?) their equivalent in the SRU hold on to old club rugby league structures or the idea that the Cup is a grand occasion.
They are trying to change things now, and the lower leagues will be better for it, but the vested interests of each club and their representatives cloud issues. Get with the times, because the pro teams are in need of greater competition below them.
What I mean by greater competition is that the B&I Cup brings 3 teams on and very few else can compete. Soon it could see an elite of 4 at the top of Prem 1 and everyone else stagnates.
It is no mystery, to bring the rest of the teams up there must be investment across the board. Obviously teams will raise their own money, but the SRU still give cash to all clubs. How do we raise more money? It comes down to TV again.
McKie claims that the TV offers for Scotland’s pro sides are “derisory”. For the club sides it is non-existent. Yet if we can get the Melrose Sevens on TV we can surely get club rugby on it. It could be rather straightforward, in fact, if you package it correctly. There is no sweeter package than the playoffs package.
Look at world sport: the NFL, NHL and NBA all have playoffs. In football there are promotion playoffs and the “£90 million game” is a one-off to get to the Premiership. It is even held at Wembley. In fact even in rugby the Celtic League, Top 14 in France, the Super 15 and Aviva Premiership all have lucrative playoffs.
Prem 1 has a split, like the money-leaking SPL.
Quite frankly the Cup has lost some lustre. Most players don’t look forward to it unless they are in the top half of the split and can’t compete for the title. I have won the Cup as a player, and it was great, but I’d rather win a league. The Cup isn’t even at the end of the season anymore: that spectacle is reserved for the Murrayfield Sevens, only.
My suggestion would be to have the Cup mid-season, like a Co-Operative Insurance Cup, or the English Carling League Cup. Leave the end of the season for the playoffs of the top 4. Have both semi-finals at Murrayfield and sell tickets to everyone. The final should be on a day when there is no other rugby. Have a 3rd/4th place game between the two losing semi-finalists for the 3rd and final B&I Cup place simply billed the “B&I Cup Match” earlier in the afternoon. Then have the big final for the title. Surely you could sell this to BBC Alba and sponsors?
In the end it comes down to money. Major events are more marketable than protracted League scenarios and you could have a different league sponsor and Finals Day sponsor. They did it for the Murrayfield Sevens. Committees can’t fight playoffs, because it is what punters expect to see. No matter the governing structure this must be made apparent.
You can keep the Boys Club at the top, as long as they listen to the popular demands of the rugby universe below. Even just look at it from a sponsor’s perspective. Keep in touch, somehow.