Why rugby needs its Mummy

Why rugby needs its Mummy

Shute Shield – Rebels v Randwick.Picture John Veage Photo: John VeageThere is a very broad theory in politics that most democratic political systems will usually have two broad parties that political analysts characterise as “Left” and “Right”, but which can also be understood – if you can cope with culturally outdated, cliched, stereotypes – as “Mummy” and “Daddy” parties.

This theory has it that just as kids need the succour of Mum and the firm hand of Dad to grow into balanced adults, so too does a country’s population need regular bouts of both parties in power to prosper and grow. The Mummy Party of the left will be excellent at ensuring that the nation’s apple pie – its gross domestic product – is fairly divided. It will ensure cuddles for everyone, regardless, and display endless understanding even for kids that behave badly. No child will go unloved, or unfed, even if Mum herself has to go hungry.

Too much indulgence for the kids from the Mummy Party, though, the littlies get spoilt, and it becomes obvious that the more stringent approach of the Daddy Party is needed … The Daddy Party, see, is far more focused on ensuring that it is a big apple pie to begin with, and – after helping himself to a big slice of pie – Dad brings back discipline and a clear-eyed focus on rewarding those who have worked hardest to produce the pie.

Are you still with me, tree people? Gawd bless you, I’m singing for you, too. Which brings us, oddly enough, to n rugby, what’s gone wrong and how to even begin fix it.

For you see, despite its macho image, for most of the rugby code’s history it has – still forgiving the stereotypes – a Mummy-type administration and culture. The very nature of the game has been to embrace all body types and sizes, all levels of ability, and love them all equally. In the amateur era, what money the elite level of the game brought in didn’t go back to the elites, it was spread throughout the whole game. And people loved the game for that, adored the sheer nurturing warmth of the whole thing.

And then rugby went professional, and the trouble started. With big money on the table, the culture radically changed. Right at the time of change, in 1995, when some of the Wallabies were going after even bigger money than was offer, this columnist turned a little feral, writing them an open letter:

“Rugby is your mother, dammit,” I thundered. “For the past two decades she’s nurtured you, taken care of you, taught you, been proud to call you her own, and held chook raffles so that you could travel around the world. She’s allowed you to walk taller down George Street than ever you would have dreamed, and now that she has come into a large amount of money you are guaranteed to enjoy enormous amounts of her largesse as one of her favourite sons. If you make a decision that that is still not enough, that you want instead her to whore for you, too – to earn the very last buck for you she can and to hell with the consequences – then you will be deserving of your fate.”

Yes, I was upset.

But since that time, Dad – a fairly dull accountant, in this instance – has been all but exclusively in charge of rugby. Decisions have been made all but exclusively on financial bottom lines, and the mass of money made has gone back all but exclusively to the biggest kids only, the front-line generators of the wealth – the Wallabies and provincial teams – not to mention the administrators themselves, and the massive infrastructure supporting the professional teams.

The results, after two decades of solid Dad? The other kids, the little ones – the club teams and wider grassroots – are getting ever more malnourished, much of the romance is gone, and people are drifting away, seeking warmth elsewhere. Things are now so bad that, as you know, ratings are down, attendances are down, and even the elites themselves are affected, with one n super franchise to be cut.

In that field, a bitter decision must be made. How to decide?

Well, in the press conference on Monday, Dad said it would be made “on financial lines”. They’ll look at profit and loss, etc, and make the decision accordingly, without fear or favour. I have one thing to say to that:

“MUM! Come quick. We need you. Dad is being a data-driven dickhead again, and not showing us any love.”

What rugby needs right now is to nurture the love once more. Show warmth. Distribute largesse where the love can grow – read grassroots and club levels – and in this specific case, I would not measure the worth of the Rebels or Force by money alone, but by the strength of their rugby community, the passion they have for it, the likelihood that they can help grow a big rugby family.

Does that all make sense? Or do you think I have been drinking too much again, and Dad should punish me?