Revolutionary 'Che' needed to tackle game's powerbase

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 1999, 12:00am

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara would have been proud of Argentina.

A little-known fact about the Argentine-born Marxist guerilla, who became a legend in Cuba, was that he played rugby in his younger days.

Argentina, who still steadfastly cling to amateurism as in the days of Che, have proudly carried the banner of the lesser-fancied teams at this World Cup.

By entering the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, Argentina continued the tradition of one of the 'minnows' securing a berth in the last eight of the World Cup.

In 1987 it was Fiji. In 1991 Canada and Samoa secured a fantastic double. Samoa repeated the feat in 1995 on the veld. And now Argentina have carried on.

The record of these smaller teams does not say much for the progress of rugby. The game has always been centred around the eight major powers - the three Southern Hemisphere giants and the Five Nations.

The only consolation, if any, for the International Rugby Board (IRB) is that the World Cup is still in its infancy. This is only the fourth edition, young compared to that other great sport - soccer.

Soccer's World Cup began in 1930 and there have been 16 tournaments since then.

Seven countries have won the soccer World Cup. Just as rugby's dominance is mainly centred around the Southern Hemisphere trio of giants, soccer's champions - and losing finalists - have come only from South America and Europe.

The IRB must take pains to see that rugby does not grow along these lines where the game will become predictable. Soccer, for all its competitive nature, is still fairly predictable at the highest level.

You can never discount Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy from the equation.

At least one from these four countries has featured in every World Cup final.

France winning the World Cup last year (beating Brazil in the final) was probably one of the best things to happen to soccer in a long time.

Even though France are still a top European footballing nation it was nice to see a new name on the Coupe du Monde.

In rugby, the superpowers are Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, in no particular order.

The only way for rugby to broaden its powerbase is for countries like Argentina to get more exposure and games with the leading nations.

In this way, Argentina are indeed more fortunate than unions like Fiji, Samoa or Tonga, who have been ignored by the traditional powers.

Can you believe that it was at this World Cup that Tonga met New Zealand for the first time? It is the same with the rest. Second-tier rugby nations are sadly neglected by the big guns simply because of economic reasons.

It is time for the world governing body to sit down with the traditional powers and draw up a calendar that offers unions like Canada and Tonga internationals against the leading nations.

If 'Che' were still alive, he would probably have called for revolutionary changes. They are needed if the game is to grow to the extent where more than just four or five countries are in genuine contention for the World Cup.