September 08, 2019
The authorities – who always were slow to change – are making sure the game is in no fit shape to expandW hen the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) voted on the idea of the World Cup in 1985, the result was 10–6 in favour, 16 votes shared equally between the eight nations who alone constituted the body governing the sport around the world. It is not as if rugby was played exclusively in those countries – when that first World Cup was held, nine other nations were invited (to make up 16, with South Africa in isolation) – but they were, literally and metaphorically, the only ones who counted, a setup consistent with that tension between exclusivity and democratisation that has fuelled and distorted rugby throughout.
Old instincts of World Rugby are preventing a true global union
The IRB began life, inevitably, because of an argument. And, inevitably, it was an argument about the labyrinthine laws. The 1884 Calcutta Cup match on a freezing day in Blackheath had been won by an England goal, but the preceding try was bitterly contested. One of the Scotland players passionately owned up to having knocked the ball backwards with his hands in the buildup. In those days, the Scottish were adamant that knock-ons of any kind were illegal, whether forward or backward, and much of the argument centred on the fact the English were not so sure about the backward bit, a typical point of ambiguity from which, one senses, the simpler code of football did not suffer. There was no advantage in those days, so by the letter of the law play should have stopped, but the English argued that to have done so would mean Scotland benefiting from their own infringement.
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