Saturday 1 October 2016

A taste of scandal before rugby's feast

Rugby's World Cup would be a good place to tackle the doping issue -or not as the case may be, writes Declan Lynch

Published 13/09/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

It is deeply interesting that the Toulon club, three-time winners of the European Club Rugby Championship, has been caught up in an investigation by French authorities in relation to allegations of doping.

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Some would see it as a bad thing, but in fact it is not a bad thing.

It is a good thing.

Men of rugby should be pleased in particular at the timing of the news, just before the Rugby World Cup, which starts next Friday.

They should welcome this opportunity to address the issue of doping in rugby in the most thorough fashion, in a way that the athletics community failed to do during their recent world championships.

The athletics crowd declared that the defeat of Justin Gatlin by Usain Bolt was a good thing. But in fact it was not a good thing.

It was a bad thing.

It would have been a better thing if Gatlin had won and they had been forced to confront the darkness within, instead of whooping and hollering and claiming that their sport had been saved - indeed the aficionados were celebrating precisely because the defeat of Gatlin meant that they wouldn't have to get into all that unpleasantness.

But we can expect better from the men of rugby ... Or Can We?

Thus far, there has been a certain reluctance on the part of the rugby family to speak freely about the concerns of the layman in this regard - to the layman, for example, it would appear that since rugby went professional, we have seen the arrival of what is essentially a new kind of human being, a much bigger kind, a new species indeed which has never been seen before on the face of the earth.

And we are familiar with all the explanations about smart training and smart diet and all sorts of smartness indeed, but you know what? We still don't think that anyone or anything is that smart.

One would have to be a tad concerned, too, that the culture of rugby is one in which full disclosure does not come naturally. - this is a game favoured by members of the ruling class, some of whom at least would tend to look after their own kind in relation to doping, just as they did when they destroyed the world economy, and just as they will when they destroy it again, as they most surely will.

They've also got a lot of lawyers in that game.

But these cavils aside, I would hope to enjoy the Rugby World Cup as much as the next man- the next man, in this instance, being one who can live quite contentedly without much rugby in his life.

There's quite a few of us out here in the world, even in the very limited version of the world as it is defined by this "world" cup. And we naturally find it hard to accept these bold assertions by the men of rugby that this will be the "biggest sporting event of the year".

Indeed with a full programme in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday and Sunday, we could make an excellent case that the opening games of the Rugby World Cup are not even the biggest sporting events next weekend.

We might even wonder if what we are looking at here is a "sporting event" at all. I have a friend who is a man of rugby - and here I should explain that it was a man of rugby who described himself to me as a "man of rugby", not a "rugby man", perhaps to distinguish himself from a mere "football man", always speaking in that ingrained code which lets us know that they belong to a superior caste.

But anyway this friend of mine has been talking about going off to Cardiff for a few days to enjoy some of this "world cup", and at no point has he mentioned much about going to a sporting event, as such. Yes he speaks of drinking with like-minded individuals, perhaps eating with them, too, ideally in some lofty zone which is cordoned off from the general public. But you'd never guess that there was an actual game of Rugby Union supposedly at the centre of it.

Then again you can look at any international rugby crowd and know that many of them see this as some sort of a social occasion, that they will perhaps be going out for a meal later, and that the quality of that meal might make some difference one way or the other to their overall enjoyment of the day.

I think of the football man who, by comparison, would take no pleasure at all in the finest dining experience to be had in Maxim's of Paris, if the game had ended in defeat. Indeed if you asked him about his restaurant booking for later that evening, or perhaps the West End show he was planning to "take in", he would consider you mad.

I think, too, of the voices of Official Ireland talking rugby in the coming weeks, and I shudder.

I do not expect them to be greatly exercised about the doping either, due to their aversion to all forms of truth.

But we have at least established that it is "the biggest sporting event of the year", if you leave out the words "the biggest of the year", and "sporting event".

Which is a start.

Sunday Independent

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