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Amateurism in the professional era

That, simply put, was the best sporting series I’ve seen in my life.   I am of course talking about the British and Irish Lions in South Africa.  Plenty of others have discussed the decisions that affected the outcomes; the what ifs and what could’ve beens.   What stood out for me was the pure intensity, desire and tenacity of every player who took to that field.   It was obvious to anyone viewing that the players competing were playing in the biggest games of their lives and that they were very aware of that fact.  Not one player took a backward step.   Danie Rossouw was pretty much knocked unconscious a few minutes after coming onto the pitch in the second game, he cut a dejected figure when he was carted off the pitch having realised he would play no further part.

In articles since, numerous writers have suggested that this may be an opportune time to disband the Lions, let me say that this is something I don’t agree with.   There is nothing comparable in the world, particularly now in professional sport.  The challenge of bringing together a group of players who have spent their careers playing against each other, even throughout age group representative competitions, to play as one team should not be underestimated.   Anyone who takes more than a passing interest in team dynamics or has tried to do it will tell you the difficulty of this inside a restricted time frame, even if those partaking are professional.  That is what makes the Lions so special.

It is obvious that it was thought up in an amateur era, no one would agree to this today, there are too many parties with interests vested in their commodities, or athletes as they’re more often referred to.   It’s a relic, an antiquity, and it’s priceless.   The mechanism that allows the concept to work is it’s history. The aura of pulling on the red jersey as those great names have before empower those selected to act differently, to draw together for a common purpose.   The friendships and camaraderie that develop on the tour as a result, as I’m sure the accompanying DVD will show, are unique.   I recently read ‘the book of fame’ by Lloyd Jones about the 1906 New Zealand tour to the British Isles where they played 33 games in 3½ months! It encaptures this much better than I can and is a worthwhile easy read.

Even though the Lions lost the series, if you asked anyone in that camp whether they think it wasn’t a valuable exercise I believe you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t.   People will argue that the clubs and the unions that employ the players and have a lot of money invested are the ones who lose out which is a valid point. Sometimes the balance sheet is hard to ignore, but like I mentioned, some things are priceless….

Neil Welch

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