Tuesday 19 September 2017

Pathetic RFU buys the drinks but can't handle the hangover

Mike Tindall's wife is the only person with a right to judge his World Cup antics, says Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Neil Francis

I remember a few years ago when Dennis Pennis doorstepped Frank Bruno and said, "Frank, all this boxing you are doing, you know, there's a real danger it might sorta stop people taking your pantomime seriously." I'm sure he is waiting for the England rugby team to cross his path so he can say something similar to them.

I thought the recent hubris over England's World Cup wasn't really worthy of comment -- that is up until Tuesday when the results of Mike Tindall's appeal became known. The RFU are fast morphing into mirror images of the clowns who run the Football Association. I thought the punishment initially handed down to Mike Tindall was a spitefully misguided, hobbit-minded town hall politician over-reaction to a situation which was well beyond the ad-hoc RFU committee's sphere of influence or scope of governance.

Rob Andrew, in handing out the punishment of removal from the elite player squad and a £25,000 fine, said: "Mike Tindall's actions reached a level of misconduct that was unacceptable in a senior England player and amounted to a very serious breach of the EPS code of conduct." What exactly was Tindall's crime? Well, he was caught on CCTV 'canoodling' (love that word) with his former girlfriend Jessica Palmer, who had flown from Sydney to watch England play. The two had hooked up for the night -- this is not indisputable -- but in my opinion they looked like boyfriend and girlfriend for the night. If any wife who was 10,000 miles away saw what was going on, the punishment scale would vary from a John Wayne haymaker to a Wayne Bobbit penis-taker.

Had it been any other one of the 29 players in the England squad nobody would have cared. The CCTV footage would not have been released and any alleged impropriety would have been buried in the annals of just another night out on a rugby tour.

Tindall allegedly misled management when he said that he went home after the Altitude bar, and unreleased CCTV footage confirmed he had gone on to the Cowboy Bar not far away. All parties say that Tindall returned to the hotel alone. No time was given.

Let's park Mike and Jessica for a minute and concentrate on the set of circumstances prior to their meeting. Alcohol has a traditional intrinsic and cultural association to the game of rugby union. It is strongly linked to the constituent fabric of the game and its social outer connections. It is not a coincidence that Guinness and Heineken have cultivated the association. Despite their best efforts, a lot of rugby players do not enjoy their product responsibly.

The England team, on the night before an official rest day, decided to have a few beers and if it turned into a full-scale piss-up, so be it. The RFU paid for the free bar and so England went on the charge with their permission and their blessing. Tindall, by his own admission, got very drunk on the night in question -- as did quite a number of his teammates. No issue. The night was officially sanctioned -- go out and give it socks, lads.

I wonder how many England players ended up in compromising situations with other women who were not their wives or girlfriends. Indeed how many players from the other 19 teams were safely tucked up in their beds alone that night. Infidelity is part of the code in rugby union as it is in any other sport during a tour or a major competition.

But unless you discount some of the Tongan team, who might have royal connections, the only other player married to a royal who was caught 'canoodling' with someone who wasn't their wife was Mike Tindall.

The only people it should concern are Mike Tindall and his wife. The media obviously had a field day but all they can do is report and speculate and offer opinion. The RFU decided though that Tindall had been in breach of a code of conduct. I am not privy to the RFU rules and its regulations. The Irish code of conduct is extremely general regarding social behaviour while in the care of union.

Either way, Tindall did nothing to break EPS covenants. The RFU laid on more alcohol than all of the England squad could drink. A significant amount of them were intoxicated on the night, why were they not charged?

Tindall ended up 'canoodling' with a woman who is not his wife but, whatever about the rights or wrongs of what he did or didn't do, it is none of the RFU's business. Have the RFU become the moral guardians of their senior squad? What law or moral code were they following? How did a quasi-legal committee consisting of Rob Andrew, the professional rugby director, and Karena Veck, the RFU's legal and governance director, come to judge Mike Tindall on an alleged indiscretion over which they have no jurisdiction. Mike Tindall broke no laws. He did say that he had not gone on to another bar, which wasn't true, but his excuse was that he was so intoxicated by the alcohol provided by the RFU that he couldn't remember.

So Tindall is thrown out of the elite player squad and fined £25,000. A World Cup and a Grand Slam winner has his distinguished career ended in ignominy by an extremely harsh and knee-jerk judgement. There would be an appeal which turned the whole affair into a mockery.

Martyn Thomas, the acting CEO of the RFU and no friend of Andrew, turned the whole thing on its head on Tuesday with his last act in charge. The four-point summary he made was utterly reprehensible, formulated from a supposedly responsible officer of a major international sporting body. In trying to mitigate and partially absolve Tindall, Thomas turned it into a laughing stock and heaped more embarrassment on all parties involved.

(I) "Mike did not intentionally mislead the RFU team management when he stated that he could not remember where he was on the night of September 11, and that he was relying on other people's versions of events which were relayed to him."

Other peoples versions of events?

(II) "There was no evidence of any suggestion of sexual impropriety of any nature with the woman in question and we accept the fact that she is a family friend who he has known for a very long time."

Why does this have any relevance to Tindall or any other England rugby player who might or might not have engaged in sexual impropriety? The mere repetition of the allegation adds more embarrassment and unnecessary hardship to the parties involved, with these pontifications made by an organisation that had no legal right to judge and probably felt compelled to in some way punish Tindall because the establishment demanded some form of retribution.

(III) "There was no evidence that Mike had been involved in any incidences in the past which could contribute as aggravating factors."

Unfortunately, utter tosh. Tindall has two convictions for drink driving and was banned for three years in 2009 and had to attend a drink-drive rehab clinic. The RFU were well aware of Tindall's fondness for a few beers and stand indicted for fuelling that desire.

Tindall has been reinstated into the elite squad but at the age of 33 it is doubtful he will wear the England jersey again. An exceptionally nice fella and well respected by opponents and colleagues, I suspect he will have more battles to fight when his career eventually ends. I wish him well.

As the Christmas office party season comes upon us and thousands of ethical and moral dilemmas come upon hard-pressed revellers, thank your lucky stars that you only have to be judged by your maker and your partner and not the RFU.

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