Peter Bills: Time for ERC to show some common sense
Dear readers -- a sort of rugby Christmas quiz for you. It is quite simple -- indeed, it only has one question. All you have to do is read through the following two sets of quotes and answer a simple question.
The first comes from Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill after his team's draw with Perpignan in the Heineken Cup last weekend.
Cockerill was critical of Irish referee Peter Fitzgibbon for not cracking down on French players who, he alleged, killed the ball at the breakdown in Sunday's draw at Welford Road.
"Sides that want to cheat, lie down at the breakdown, kill the ball and not roll away are getting away with it more and more," he fumed.
"The referee doesn't deal with it. How are you meant to play? They (Perpignan) came with a plan to not let us play. We spoke to (ERC match officials performance manager) Donal Courtney and he assured us there would be zero tolerance at the breakdown.
"Clearly, there wasn't zero tolerance. Rugby's lawmakers have issues to deal with."
His words were to the point. So consider them carefully.
The second statement is from Cockerill's counterpart at Saracens, Brendan Venter. He also criticised the ERC and the referee after his side's Heineken Cup defeat by Leinster in October.
This what he said: "Before the Heineken Cup began, I asked if we would have a conference, so all the officials from abroad were in tune as to the new interpretations of the laws.
"Instead, we got some European referees in the Premiership, but there is a real danger that if we don't take action going into a World Cup year, the game of rugby is going to die, be killed stone dead because the public won't come to watch."
I reckon Venter's words were slightly less direct than Cockerill's. Nevertheless, they earned him a fine of ¿25,000, ¿15,000 of it suspended until June 2012 pending no more examples of such straight talking.
He was told to use the appropriate channels for any similar comments in future.
So it appears I was under the misapprehension that freedom of speech was a basic human right in democratic nations.
Sadly, it seemed from the way the ERC treated Venter for saying what he honestly thought, they prefer the ways of a different world. Why does it appear to be that the controlling body just can't tolerate any hint of criticism from those at the coalface of the game?
So now we come to the quiz. What was the difference between Venter's comments and those of Cockerill? Were they not essentially much the same?
I would have thought the vast majority of people would think so. Indeed, some might say that, of the two, Cockerill was more overtly critical. Yet, three days after his statement, Cockerill had not heard a word from the ERC.
We have to wonder why this was? Might it have been that the ERC have at last realised that when you are in a hole, the last thing you do is keep digging?
Could it be that they fear they have opened up a can of worms with their entrenched position?
In this day and age, how could the ERC or any other sporting organisation, for that matte,r defend in a court its policy of denying a basic human right, freedom of speech, in this EU-dominated world in which we now live, with its PC rules?
Should an individual present a case to the EU in Brussels that his or her basic human rights had been infringed, how could organisations such as the ERC defend their position?
Of course, the antidote to such a scenario is a little bit of common sense.
In this case, had the ERC, unbeknown to anyone else, called up Venter and quietly suggested that the South African might in future put such viewpoints to them directly, not through the pages of the media, none of this mess would have occurred.
But by using a claw hammer to break open the Christmas nuts, they have made a rod for their own backs.
They now have to charge Cockerill, thereby ensuring their strict ways are made known to an even wider world.
This is what happens when you have no clear vision in organisations.