World Rugby would do well to tread carefully in its pursuit of sanctions against Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby as the misconduct hearing could blow up in its face, writes ZELIM NEL.
The long-held perception is that World Rugby is quick to use its position of power to defend its reputation, but slow to address issues that have negative effects on the game. It’s not an altogether accurate position given the positive impact of the governing body’s annual investment in the poorer rugby nations.
The perception is fuelled by the disconnect between World Rugby’s marketing arm and the reality of the pro game, and the result is that spectators are often left with a ‘product’ that doesn’t resemble what was on the packaging.
Part of this disconnect manifests itself in weekly controversy related to refereeing decisions. Let’s cover that rabbit hole with the fact that the clinical application of the laws would deliver a contest very different to the one presented by the marketing department.
There’s an unspoken agreement between World Rugby and officials that the latter will massage the law book to tilt the contest and conjure a rugby fairytale, and this is perhaps the reason why the governing body doesn’t come down hard on referees after contentious issues arise.
How can it publicly berate officials who they’ve effectively given license to story-tell the law book?
On the other side of the debate are coaches and players whose livelihoods depend on results. And when, because of inconsistent officiating, results become difficult for those parties to control through quality preparation and performance, frustration grows.
Erasmus’ video to World Rugby is apparently not the first time he has cut such a review and sent it to headquarters, though it is the first time it made it into the public domain.
SA Rugby’s rivals spotted the gap to try to impede the intimidating world champions and this has applied pressure on World Rugby to quell the rebellion, so to speak.
But the governing body would do well to tread carefully in this matter as its rugby reign is at its most tenuous, perhaps ever.
Private money is flooding into rugby and along with it high rollers who aren’t sitting with their fingers on their lips waiting for World Rugby to let them know when they can go to the bathroom.
Soccer went professional before rugby and the evolution of that sport is a clear forecast of what awaits World Rugby – clubs with private owners have left national interests in their dust as soccer has gone global.
Rugby is headed the same way and it’s a matter of time before Test rugby is only most cherished among the game’s eldest segment of supporters. Whether World Rugby survives that transition probably depends on its ability to remain a relevant and respected regulator.
There have been calls for World Rugby to make an example of Erasmus and SA Rugby in the current misconduct inquest, but at least one private equity stakeholder in South African rugby has offered his resources in support of the embattled director of rugby.
This disciplinary process could result in a spectacular backfire for World Rugby if they impose heavy sanctions on SA Rugby, and in doing so galvanise club owners to start making plans to protect themselves, and their investment, against the influence of the game’s governing body.