Boots and all

Authorities might be wise to follow example set by round-ball game

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 3:59am

Thank heavens the International Rugby Board is not as toothless as that other great sporting institution, the International Cricket Council.

Just imagine if we had a troika in the IRB running the show – say England, Australia and New Zealand – as is happening in Dubai (ICC headquarters) where India, Australia and England are imperiously dictating how world cricket must be played.

Cricket’s downfall has been that one country, India, has too much economic clout. Since they provide the major share of the game’s global revenue, they feel they should also get the biggest slice of the pie.

When the ICC was known as the Imperial Cricket Conference, it was run mainly by England and Australia. That colonial outlook only changed as recently as 1989 when it became the International Cricket Council, finally shedding all links with the past. Now India feels it is payback time. But what is sad is that the cricket authorities in England and Australia have shown they have no backbone and are backing the big bad wolf. It is all about greed and money.

While the IRB is not as bad, it brings to the fore how little the rugby and cricket establishments have done in recent times to develop their sports.

Globally they might both be two of the biggest television sports, but in reality are they truly a world sport like soccer? The IRB has 100 full members and 17 associate members. The ICC has 106 members of which only 10 are full members who play test cricket, with the remaining split between 37 associate members (Hong Kong is one of them) and 59 affiliate members. Fifa has 209 countries and territories in its membership. The game is played virtually in every part of the world. Neil Armstrong shouldn’t have driven a golf ball on the moon, he should have kicked a football.

Even though Fifa is run autocratically, it has spread the message far and wide. Its World Cup has been played on every continent. Rugby’s counterpart has switched among Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the southern hemisphere and Britain and France in the north. It was only after great haggling and horse trading that it will come to Asia – to Japan – in 2019.

The cricket World Cup (50 overs) is limited to 14 countries in 2015. It was less in the past. Rugby has 20 spots in its World Cup. Football on the other hand has 32. So which sport is a closed shop?

But the biggest indictment on rugby, and cricket, is that only a handful of countries are truly in with a shout of winning their respective World Cups. In soccer, we have had eight different champions over the years. It is five for cricket and four for rugby, underlining the difference in standards in each sport.

The Brazils, Spains and Germanys still rule football, but at least there is always the possibility of an upset. Do you think the All Blacks can be beaten by Japan? Or England toppled by Romania or Belgium?

This gulf between the haves and have-nots is something the IRB must address. Hong Kong is now ranked in the top 25 and every effort must be made to help us become more competitive.

In the past the lesser nations have been ignored, but I believe the IRB is set to unveil a new programme to help reduce the gap in playing standards between the elite and the rest.

While world cricket presses the self-destruction button, we must be thankful the IRB is not as insular.

With the Rugby World Cup coming to Asia for the first time, every effort must be made to develop the game. This is the true challenge facing the IRB.