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.