The Tin Foil Hat World Cup

The Rugby World Cup seems to attract more conspiracy theories than any other sporting tournament outside the Area 51 softball league. In 1995 there was “Susie” the mysterious waitress who poisoned the All Black players on the eve of the final with South Africa. Then in 2007 the Tongans reportedly said they were put under pressure to cite South Africa’s Francois Steyn for an alleged bite even though there was no evidence such an offence had occurred.

However this World Cup more than any before it seems to have had fans reaching for their tin foil hats, with Twitter awash with all manner of conspiracy theories and accusations of bias. We feel it’s our duty to you, dear reader, to seek out the truth. We’ve visited car parks in the dead of night, stalked the smoking man and stayed indoors whenever chemtrails appeared in the skies above us. Here’s what we found.

The unfair fixture schedule for tier 2 nations

Tier 2 nations, particularly Japan and Fiji, are entitled to raise concerns about the way their fixtures were scheduled, with Fiji having perhaps the most cause to complain. However rather than a conspiracy by World Rugby to stamp all over the hopes and dreams of the emerging nations the truth is far more boring.

Complaints were first raised in 2011, most famously by Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, when Samoa had a three day turnaround between matches. Fuimaono-Sapolu didn’t particularly help his argument by comparing the turnaround to slavery, apartheid and the holocaust, but the tournament organisers listened to the concerns and promised 2015 would be different. Enter Japan.

Japan’s shock win over the Springboks reignited the debate about the treatment of tier 2 nations with the Brave Blossoms only having a three day turnaround before facing Scotland. The fact Japan had captured the public’s imagination meant this became a major talking point during the rest of the Pool stage.

However in place of a smoking gun is a well worn copy of a TV listings magazine. Aside from New Zealand, South Africa and maybe Wales, rugby is still some way off being the most popular sport in the remaining tier 1 nations. This is something World Rugby and individual unions are keen to change. That means scheduling matches at times designed to attract the biggest TV audience. For example England, as host nation, had the most to gain from the World Cup in terms of exposure so all their games were scheduled on a weekend.

Unfortunately this means that tier 2 nations will lose out to tier 1 nations who are generally given priority for weekend matches when the global audience figures are likely to be much higher. It’s not only World Rugby that has a hand in setting the TV schedules. ITV nearly withdrew its bid to broadcast the 2000 World Cup in Australia until it received assurances that home nations’ matches would be played at times suitable for transmission in the UK.

Rugby is still an emerging sport perhaps thanks to the late introduction of professionalism. It is still playing catch up football and needs to establish a foothold within tier 1 nations before it can consider treating other nations more equitably. There is no conspiracy. Just business.

Inconsistent disciplinary action

The disciplinary process at this World Cup can, at best, be described as a farce. Inconsistencies in decisions made by a referee are understandable. A referee is often making decisions in real time, and even with assistance from television match officials he does have a match to get on with. Anyone who spent the day constantly refreshing Twitter on the day of the Ford/Gray hearing will know that World Cup disciplinary panels can take a much longer breath to consider an offence.

During the Pool stage there were twenty four citings, with fifteen citings for tier 2 nations and just eight for tier 1. One explanation for this could be experience – tier 1 players are more likely to have better technique when it comes to tackling for example. However unlike previous World Cups, most players are now professional and so it’s hard to see how a lack of technique can account for such a large discrepancy. Essentially a tier 2 player is already at a statistical disadvantage with almost a 90% difference in the number of citings. However the nature and length of the suspensions dished out as a result of the disciplinary process are fairly similar with the average tier 2 suspension coming in at just over two weeks and tier one suspensions coming in just under two weeks.

The difference in treatment is perhaps more marked when comparing the footage of similar offences. World Rugby released a statement last week which sought to draw a line under the matter in which it claimed that each case was dealt with on its merits and decisions were in line with its published guidance and regulations.

However if we look at two offences which were cited the disparity in the way decisions are reached becomes clear. These are probably the two most comparable cases out of all the citings made during the Pool stage.

The first incident is Tom Wood’s tackle on Nemani Nadolo in England’s opening match against Fiji. Wood received an official warning for what was classed as a “neck roll”.

The second incident is Nick Blevins of Canada who received a five week ban for a neck roll.

Looking at both incidents it is clear that Wood is aware of his actions. It’s hard to understand how it can be argued as accidental. Blevins offence is slightly different. Although the clear out is clumsy the neck roll results from the position of the opposition player rather than any deliberate attempt by Blevins to cause injury. That is not to say Blevins should not have received a five week ban given the seriousness of the incident. It’s just hard to see why Wood received such leniency.

World Rugby may argue that these incidents are all different and that the disparity between the treatment of different teams is co-incidental however the facts point to the bias within the process. That bias may well be unconscious but World Rugby will have to go back to the drawing board before the next World Cup in order to address this issue or threats of a tier 2 boycott may become a reality.

The Secret Southern Hemisphere Cabal

Following Scotland’s defeat to Australia there were claims in the comments section of this site and elsewhere that the defeat and Southern Hemisphere dominance had somehow been orchestrated by a secret antipodean society working within World Rugby. The evidence for this seems to stretch as far as the fact that head of World Rugby Brett Gosper is Australian.

Such claims are more easily dismissed than some of the other conspiracies swirling around the tournament. For starters World Rugby’s headquarters are in Dublin, the Chairman is French and the Head of Competitions, Mark Egan is Irish. We can also easily dismiss any bias towards Scotland as a result of referee selection given the Chair of the World Rugby Match Official Selection Committee is one John Jeffrey.

Furthermore it doesn’t make commercial sense for the World Cup to be rigged in such a way as to eliminate Northern Hemisphere teams at such an early stage in the tournament as it’s likely to hit TV audience figures hard. This makes it harder for World Rugby to sell the tournament to Northern Hemisphere commercial partners next time around. Also the most desirable outcome for World Rugby would have been for the hosts to have progressed at least as far as the semi-finals to maintain interest in the tournament to the very end. As it is coverage of the tournament has slipped further and further back into the recesses of most sports sections and is now barely noticeable on the front pages of most Northern Hemisphere news websites. Even here, we’re getting ready to jump back into the PRO12.

World Rugby’s remaining hope for generating some interest in the tournament at this point is for Argentina to progress to the final, lest those with a passing interest in the sport write off the final as the same old same old. Only four teams have won the tournament and only five have ever made it as far as the final. Were Argentina to break into that elite group it might just be enough to reignite some interest.

The opening ceremony was a satanic ritual

This is probably the best conspiracy theory to come out of the World Cup. This writer will admit to not noticing that the opening ceremony might be a gigantic satanic ritual but there certainly seems to be a lot of evidence to support this.

The ball sat in the centre of the pitch represents an egg or the “serpent’s seed” in the middle of the stadium which represents a nest. Portals then emerge from the earth revealing giants which lift themselves out of the underworld. Small children then run onto the pitch each with numbers on the back of their shirts that are symbolic and intended to harvest energy. Furthermore all the shirts are Canterbury shirts the logo of which looks like the number “666”… the number of the beast.

Chris Paterson then stands on a portal to the underworld as one of a number of representatives of the Kingdoms of the World that the anti-christ is hoping to rise and rule over. Who knew Chris Paterson would come to be the anti-christ’s representative on Earth. It might account for his high kicking success percentages.

The actor playing William Webb Ellis with the skull and crossbones on his shirt represents the Phoenicians, early allies of the Illuminati and Son of Dan. The fact that the skull and crossbones was part of the shirt originally worn by Webb Ellis is ignored by conspiracy theorists who apparently won’t let facts get in the way of the quest for truth.

Another problem is that one theorist repeatedly says that the ceremony is taking place in the Millennium Stadium presumably because of the power that can be harvested from the millennium or something. The ceremony took place at Twickenham. But again let’s not let facts get in the way of all this. Plus most Scots would agree that Twickenham is the seat of all evil.

Ultimately the entire ceremony is intended to harvest the energy of those in the stadium and those watching around the world. It is also supposed to mark the coming of the fifth angel who is the king of the Illuminati and appears to be a kid’s party clown. Terrifying.

“You want the answers?”

“I want the truth!”

“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

Napoleon Bonepart is famously misquoted as saying “never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” In other words conspiracies are rare but incompetence is commonplace.

There is a kernel of truth in at least two of the conspiracies that have emerged from the World Cup. The fixture schedules are unfair but that’s because it makes commercial sense. The disciplinary process is skewed against tier 2 nations but that’s because there is too much room for inconsistency and unconscious bias in the current system (and there are more tier 2 nations in the tournament – Ed).

It seems likely that more work will be done on the schedules in time for Japan 2019. However the time difference might cause organisers and broadcasters significant headaches. World Rugby appear to be satisfied with the disciplinary process as it stands but such complacency runs the risk of alienating emerging nations and turning off those with a passing interest in the sport.

The conspiracy theories are unlikely to go away. Even if a solution is found a new one will pop up in its place. In the meantime we should all be extra nice the Chris Paterson.

Just in case.

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Born a Souter but brought up just south of the Border in Berwick where he played for Berwick RFC as a kid any any position where cover was needed.
Follow Cammy on twitter @CammyBlack

32 comments on “The Tin Foil Hat World Cup

  1. Cameron on

    Well done Cameron. There has been some amount of wailing and gnashing about this World Cup. Perhaps a symptom of it being the first easily accessible (in terms of sociable hours) WC in the social media age?

    I’m bored of hearing about bad refereeing, inconsistent citing and big team bias. It’s been a great WC and the play has been fantastic thus far. Particularly when compared with the dirge of brutal rugby that has been served up in recent times. Hopefully the dark days of getting the big guy to run it into another big guy are over and we can look forward to more running rugby.

    Well said though and good effort to call out those more interested in looking for shadowy scapegoats.

    • Cameron Black on

      Cheers.
      I think emotionally it helps to have someone else to blame which is why lots of conspiracy theories appear particularly around horrific events… Like being dumped out the World Cup in the quarter finals.
      I’d like players to hold on to some of the anger though. I think the suspensions of Ford and Gray played a huge part in how the team played and hoping the injustice of it all will drive the team forward.

  2. Eyeball Paul on

    Faux altruism has been rife during this world cup and all it takes is one person of “influence” to bleat about something on social media and it sets off the armchair handwringers.

  3. Feepole on

    Well said Cameron. We will need some excuse for righteous indignation before the 6Ns though. As you say, it clearly benefits us.

  4. Andy N on

    LOL – great article – light years ahead of the tripe coming from most journo’s at the moment.

    The only one thats not de-bunked then is the consistency (or lack of) within the citing process. I agree that it absolutely defies explanation that such fundamentally different conclusions can be drawn by seemingly knowledgable individuals over similar (or indeed sometimes the same) footage. Maybe it should go to a public vote…..although on second thought I guess you only have to look at the MOTM award for the Australia v England game to see how badly that can be hijacked by mischievous toerags.

    I really think that if we have to persist with the citings process at all, then the only real way to get consistent decisions is to have consistency of panel members – stop running the process like a bunch of amateur blazer boys and get a full time panel, properly coach them and prepare them for the role. Perhaps even look at some degree of positive discrimination – have a full time citing panel for the duration of the competition made up of a 70/30 split of representatives from Tier 2 and Tier 1 nations – with 70% being Tier 2. At least this way, whilst they might get decisions wrong, they should get them wrong consistently – which is progress….probably.

      • Cameron Black on

        The citing officers arent so much of an issue issue as the Panels that consider them. Far better to have one Panel for the whole tournament made up of 6-8 members. Anyone with a conflict of interest can step down for individual hearings but by sticking to the same group you’ll probably get more consistency

      • FF on

        Cameron – did you read the appeal report? Susan Ahern, who is RWCL head of legal, told the Judicial Officer in her opinion he had no option but to find Gray/Ford guilty of a lifting tackle and apply a deterrent punishment in the original ‘trial’. In the appeal, the panel dismissed the case on the basis that the players had not driven Lam into the ground as a matter of fact, and that the JO had applied the regulations literally and not interpreted with the intention world rugby made clear in various memos. In other words, the JO and SA had applied the law mechanistically without understanding the spirit behind the law.

        I don’t see how SA can retain her position in World Rugby. This farce shows the problems with exclusively using lawyers to run a sporting disciplinary body. Every JO should be accompanied with an ex-pro player/referee to safeguard their legal interpretations. It would instantly get rid of judgements like Ford/Gray and Tuilangi (not to mention Russell’s 6N ban).

      • Cameron Black on

        FF – I thought the original judgement was full of holes and it was hard to see why Brett Gosper was saying it was out of his hands when the head of legal is there telling the JO he’s no option but to find them guilty. I’m not one for calling for anyone’s head but I think the organisation of disciplinary panel’s need to be looked at. Usually legal officers sitting on any sort of panel are there in an advisory role to give legal advice etc. when its asked for and making sure due process is followed. Never heard of a legal officer giving a directive like that before. Certainly was odd but suspect its just one person getting above their station rather than some grant plot

      • Graeme on

        Rory- who is best person to email an “attempt” at writing an article as I have given it a wee go. I am fairly new to the site and only commented a few times however I have read a good few of the articles on offer and have enjoyed reading and increasing my knowledge of the game cheers sorry if it’s in the wrong comments section

  5. JSC on

    On the Tier 2 Tier 1 scheduling in the group Scotland had the least time between games and Japan had the most would you believe. When Japan beat USA nobody said “oh well it’s because USA had a three day turnaround”. The Japan would beat Scotland if given is substantial rest period argument is incredibly boring ‘journalism’.

    This however was a hilarious article. Well done!

    • Angus on

      I agree. The time Japan had between subsequent games was longer than anyone else I think. Regardless of the team I would prefer the shorter time between my first 2 games than later on

      I think Japan had a good draw

      • FF on

        I don’t think that’s really fair – if Scotland had been drawn with SA then Samoa four days later I’d be mighty pissed off.

        The teams that did have a good draw were the top seeded sides. SA had good rests until their final game, but that was against group no-hopers USA. Samoa (second seeds as they were ranked 8th when the draw was made) didn’t have any four day turnaround, and had a sequence of USA/SA/Japan/Scotland, so didn’t even have to play their hardest games on succession.

        Just demonstrates that the schedules benefited the teams expected to go through, and that group did not officially include Scotland.

      • Angus on

        You have to take into account seeding and the rewards of being a higher seed

        Japan were never expected to get close to SA based on their form and seeding. If they hadn’t pulled off a miracle ambush it would never have been an issue

        If someone has to have a less favourable draw should it be a high or a lower seeded country

        Seeding earns you better draws which is what you say about favouring teams expected to go through and I see no problems with that

  6. Matto on

    I’m not one for all the conspiracy guff and I like the attitude of the Scottish players (after the initial blow). Focus on the stuff that you do control and ignore everything else, which is just a distraction and an impediment to progress. I agree with both Cheika and Hansen (notwithstanding, conspiracies aside, there could well be a non-conspiratorial psychological side to refereeing which favours the top teams e.g. the ABs) that refereeing decisions are part of the game. However, a few coaches also like to play mind games (not including BVC) and I do wonder if both Cheika and Hansen are trying to curry a wee bit of favour, knowing that it’s often one wee baw hair of a decision that swings ‘the luck’.

  7. RealDon on

    I think Cameron is talking some sense :)

    Just seems like some some very good coaching by Cheika and making the most of any lucky breaks that come their way (ok very lucky – lol), allied with an attacking style (9 tries in 2 games) that has propelled Aussies into the final.

    Should it be an Ireland vs Scotland final? As Sir Clive said today (yes I know he is English, but unlike the Welsh, Irish, Scots he has actually lifted the trophy for a Lions nation) the two best teams are there for a reason.

    I look forward to Scotland, winning the six nations in 2016; with no ‘cheating’ SH nations to upset your confident stride, should be an easy grand slam for World Cup semi finalists (sic) …

  8. Are you Neil in disguise? on

    Good that you pair agree with yourself. Luckily for you it will all be over soon and your nausea will be cured. I’m hoping for an Oz win by more than 1 point. Just for the opportunity to tiresomely claim that Scotland were actually runners up by default, until we actually have something less tenuous to brag about.

    • Bulldog on

      It feels like Neil, someone must have left the door open, however he is not knocking Scotland and has set up the aunt sally for a few late pelters.

      • Cameron Black on

        Yeah it was Neil. We’re working on a new comments system when we get round to the big site relaunch which should give us better control. Bulldog I’ve deleted your replies, not because there was anything wrong with them just because they’d look a bit odd on their own with no context.

      • victor on

        Bulldog- why do you have such a problem with one or two individuals who happen to disagree with you or with the status quo. I think the thred is much more interesting with a lively debate rather than 5 contributors, all of which wouldnt dare challenge each other or a popular viewpoint if their lives depended on it. You seem to be calling shots.
        So exactly what are your views- not the status quo or what you feel you should say to be popular. You are not fighting an election campaign for heavens sake. What are your unique views on the world Cup, Scotland etc. Do you think we have been dealt a bitter blow?

      • Dan Mac on

        Nor is he afraid to repeat those views ad nauseum regardless of what the current topic may be. Nothing wrong with differing opinions, I’ve seen some quite lively different opinions on here not involving Neil,but it is wrong when you are constantly ramming them down people’s throats.

      • Matto on

        Victor, if I agree with someone’s opinion I’m not going to try and counter it just for the sake of it. As a point in fact I have disagreed with Neil on multiple occasions. Not through some group pressure, or because he’s unpopular, but generally because it’s complete nonsense without any grounding in reality or evidence base, and is frequently biased, a bit Daily Mail and highly repetitive. Saying that, I am inevitably drawn to his posts by some weird masochistic form of gratification.

  9. Cameron Black on

    Victor/Neil – You were banned for repeatedly using offensive language. If you’d been banned for disagreeing with us we’d have banned you long long ago. Feel free to keep setting up new commenter profiles but we’ll keep removing them. I have two younger brothers. My patience is limitless.
    Guys we do our best to monitor comments and deal with stuff like this but please don’t feed the troll. You’re only encouraging him.

  10. Bulldog on

    There has been a great deal to talk about in this RWC and it may bring about changes to referees, citing commissioners, appeals, use of technology and the scrum to name but a few . Scotland have been right in the thick of it. Despite the rough justice, we are stronger for it and have won hearts and minds of many Rugby and non rugby supporters.

    I like to start on a positive, well done to England and Wales who have planned and delivered it so meticulously. I loved the range of stadia and locations. Also to their fans who despite their early exit turned up in numbers to support . They got behind our lads at Twickenham and contributed to a game to remember.

    A lot to talk about and much has been said in earlier blogs about the incidents. So much of the subject matter of this post is already captured in earlier blogs. We have been extremely enthusiastic in our response to the issues arising in earlier blogs.

    Rugby Union is a complex game and I really think you need to have played it to really get it. Which is a problem when promoting it professionally. There have been incidents that got experienced pundits talking and it has added to it all.

    Rugby always was professional , it was called Rugby League. It has less players, less complexity, it is a raw passing and tacking game and easy for the masses to understand even if they have never played.

    Union , is adapting however as we know, they are still finding the balance, too many TMO decisions leaks time, however the crowd can see and judge for themselves , so not all bad. It is great to see some nations adapting such as Japan with hookers that hook and that is refreshing in what has become a stale area . I recall agreeing with ‘Pragmatic Optomist’ that we both want less scrum penalties, however we just had different approaches to solving it. Perhaps it is not the rules but the fashion that needs to change.

    What I do hope is that when we make the changes , we remain committed to Union. That we recognise that League is what it is and served their fans well for what it is. What I hope is that we never lose the gentleman spirit which sets Union apart. What I hope is that we do not try and rob all the complexity as what we will end up with is a repackage of Rugby League.

    I think this is going to be tough and I really do hope that World Rugby , take account of all nations , not just the SH nations when making these decisions to innovate the game. I would be keen to see this blog continue when we know more of how this will work. It would be good if we felt part of the reshape, if indeed there is a reshape. As a nation of only 38K players (and that will include schools and female players), we punch well above our weight in the ratio players compared to our world ranking. Something else to be proud of incidently.

    It would be useful to know what we as fans can do to influence outcomes? As already discussed the players must remain in the spirit of the game and cannot often speak out . However we as fans can have the freedom to say what we feel.

    At one time Union was run for players , now , it needs the fan to fund the sport. So does our opinion count and how can we better channel our views would be my challenge.

  11. Frozen North on

    I like your wording Bulldog, you make many good points and predictions that I share also.

    In my opinion, as a fan (and x-player of Aberdeen Grammar FPs), the rugby union should look again at its vision. Currently the vision is “Rugby – a sport for all, true to its values”…that’s a bit of a cop out really. The vision should be a little bit more elaborate in order to allow people to visualize it in some fashion. e.g. “To make rugby union the most popular sport world-wide whilst holding to its true values of being a fair and rewarding sport” or something along these lines. The vision should state the future intent…stating almost the idealist view.

    From a renewed vision, should come strategy of how to achieve it. This would mean looking very closely at those aspects of the game which have detracted from the vision (i.e. switched people off to the game vs those aspects which have really engaged). Feedback is required for this. Not that feedback should be acted upon every time. It is there merely to them understand whether there is some potential for improvement without going away from the renwewed vision.

    The product is the game itself with all its rules and mechanics to support it.

    In summary, since the introduction of televised rugby, fans have been able to spot bad referee calls. TMOs were brought in to make the game fairer – the learning curve for using TMOs is clearly still in the early stages. The significant challenge is how to use technology in a rapid, fair and consistent way to enhance the game. Right now, the TMO is not enhancing the game, it is not being used correctly (i.e. consitently) or being used efficiently.

    Thinking hats on…what questions should the rugby union be asking themselves right now or what is the single most important question to be asked by which answering it provides the answers to all other questions? An example of this question should be “does the current use of technology enhance rugby union?” (this is not the question itself but just giving an idea – i think the actual question is above this and simpler).

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