We now have the testament from Tom Williams’, the Harlequins winger, made public. I’ve been hard pushed not to make any comment and have wanted to wait until I knew more of the incident than when it first came out. Having played rugby for a long period and as a huge fan of the sport, it’s difficult for me to pour scorn on the game. So I’ll make these comments as detached as possible, purely as a sports fan.
For some time, rugby has positioned itself on a pedestal, as the shining example of hard physical competition and confrontation coupled with sportsmanship and fair play. However, it seems the deeper the game travels into its’ professional era, the harder it becomes to agree with this. Rugby union has had a tough couple of years with eye gouging, spear tackling, rape allegations against international players, drug taking and now the ‘bloodgate’ scandal blighting its’ image. People look for reasons to explain why these are all appearing now.
Some may set their sights on money and state that the pressure clubs, players and unions find themselves under to perform in order to maintain revenue and survival as the reasons for ‘momentarily’ finding themselves in compromising scenarios. I’ve heard others blame youthful petulance or the downward spiral of society. All perfectly valid points of view, but all looking outwards for external causation, similar to the manager who blames poor refereeing after the game for his team’s loss. The problem with external causation is that it is out of your hands, there is nothing you can do about it, it’s just bad luck. If rugby started to look within the game it might find issues it needs to deal with, I would argue that the game now is better reported and more closely scutinised and that these incidents were always happening, it’s just no-one outside the sport was ever aware of them.
The sport is now in the position of having it all in the open for everybody to see, but it also has an opportunity. The IRB, RFU and ERC can set new norms within the sport, to move on from the traditional mind set that cheating is fine as long as you get away with it, if they set a strong stance they can enhance the sports’ reputation and attract new fans and young players many of whom are being kept away by parents in light of recent scandals.
Harlequins, as a squad practiced cheating, they refined their methods. Dean Richards cheated. Tom Williams cheated. The backroom staff violated professional codes of conduct. Mark Evans and each of them conspired to cover it up. Pressure or not, they each made choices and must now face the consequences of their actions.