The term ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’ means an exercise in futility; mucking about with minutiae while the main concern steams steadfastly towards destruction, as the Titanic famously did in 1912 when it hit an iceberg and sank.
It was difficult, when looking at the latest Sanzar rugby impasse, to avoid Titanic references. Rugby is heading towards its own iceberg and the Sanzar meeting seemed only to bring the noise of chairs scraping on the deck.
Paul Lewis writes in the NZ Herald that some will say there is no iceberg, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, where money abounds and the fan base is strong. Sinking?
The game is soaring, they’ll say.
Soaring? All right then – it’s like rearranging the seating in the Hindenburg, as some wag told the White House correspondents’ association dinner a few years back.
The north and world rugby needs a strong south. But rugby has developed a frightening ability to ignore its own icebergs; to believe in its own unsinkability, just as the owners of the Titanic did.
In the New Zealand Herald last week, rugby writer Wynne Gray addressed the Sanzar attempts to reform the ailing Super 14 format by alluding to South Africa’s intransigence and their signal that they could head off to a new league involving Scotland, Ireland, Argentina and the US.
Let them go, said Gray, as “it might be time to sting Asia and maybe the US for rights to join the [Super 14] tournament”.
The Herald on Sunday revealed moves for a Super 12, with New Zealand, Australian, Pacific Island and Japanese teams. Hand me that deck chair, will you?
Try as I might, I cannot get interested in a tournament, already boring thousands upon thousands, which moots the absence of the world champions and replaces them with the might of Japan, the US and/or the Pacific Islands.
The proposition – which will doubtless be accompanied by the spin that it will help ‘grow’ world rugby – reminds me of the breathless reporter who once asked John Lennon whether Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world.
Lennon replied: “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles.”
Rugby in this part of the world is just like Ringo. Under the yoke of professional rugby, it has faded and is losing contact with its fan base (Starr famously cut himself off from his fans last year by refusing to sign any more autographs).
Rugby in this part of the world has an issue to address before it talks about ‘growth’ or the reformation of Super rugby. Survival. Exaggerated?
Look at the facts. Rugby’s support in New Zealand is waning. Dwindling TV audiences and gates reveal the plughole and swirling water.
And this is New Zealand. Maybe not the ‘home’ of rugby but certainly its cathedral. There is no more pure and integrated rugby society in the world. And we’re bleeding.
Here is a brief list of problems turning people off the game and facing New Zealand and world rugby: Confusing rules, changed every year by people who do not seem to understand the game.
Those changes have produced an untidy, defence-oriented game which looks much like rugby league but without the structure.
Quantity dominates, not quality. In the professional era, chasing the dollar has seen more and more games and tests created – overkill.
The anticipation that used to fire interest and imaginations has gone, buried under a clogged calendar controlled by broadcasting fees and which promotes boredom.
With all that rugby to be played, elements such as rotation, reconditioning, campaign management and player welfare have surfaced – meaning fans do not see the best players consistently.
The June test window sees Northern Hemisphere countries send down meaningless B and C teams. Yet the NZRU does nothing – no boycott, no meaningful protest. It just takes the money.
Too bad for the punters.
Imbalance – the Northern Hemisphere has the money and the power but the Southern Hemisphere has the talent and plays the game better. In six World Cups, the north has won only one.
The IRB cannot control the game it is supposed to rule. Factional self-interest is too strong and the global structure and rules are inconsistent.
That list shows a game that is one sick puppy.
All right, rugby won’t die. But, as it gets weaker, there is the real threat that rugby in New Zealand (and Australia) could wither as we move on to new national sports like bridge swinging and methamphetamine.
Without a strong New Zealand and Australia, the north may continue to prosper domestically but the game will be in danger of folding into pockets of self-interest – talking of ‘world champions’ and ‘world series’ but really becoming isolated, like gridiron, Gaelic football and baseball.
New Zealand has only itself to rely on. We showed we could change world rugby opinion with the successful campaign to bag the 2011 World Cup.
We now need leadership and vision to secure the future of the game.
Fast. All we’re hearing is the scraping of those chairs on the deck.Tweet