It would have been easy for me to jump on the band wagon today and just blab on about violence at football rearing its ugly head. Instead though I thought I would resist this urge and talk about a sport that I don't always follow as closely as others, Rugby Union.
'Blood Gate' as it has been so unwitily named has become big news in Rugby circles, so I thought I'd look into it. Having done so I was shocked. Basically Harlequins Rugby team wanted to make a substitution but couldn't because of a ruling within the game that prevented them from doing so. However in the case of a player being injured they would be able to make the substitution. So the coaching staff, having made a trip to the local joke shop before the match, gave a blood capsule to the player they wanted to bring off and made him bite it making it look as though he had a cut in his mouth. To make it even worse the physio then cut the players mouth in the changing room to make the injury look real!
Having grown up in a Rugby mad town 'Driffield' I was constantly being told that being a footballer made me girly, chavesque, soft and a cheat (due to its diving culture). I was also told that rugby (unlike football) was a sport for hard honest men.
There is no doubt that the men that play this sport are tough, but their integrity has been irreparably damaged by this scandal. What makes it worse though is that people within the game refuse to label those involved as cheats.
Ben Coen (England International) when interviewed by Sky Sports merely said that "these things happen" and then even worse "there are probably all sorts of things like this that haven't been brought to light yet". Wow OK so even though this scandal has been dealt with there are still a few to come! Phil Greening on the same network went even further to say that Tom Williams' (the player who used the blood capsule) ban was ridiculous. The main culprit Dean Richards put the icing on the cake though when he was quoted as saying that he thought his own three year world wide coaching ban was harsh!
I think the problem is, that those within the game seem to see this as a simple bending of the rules; unfortunately to an outside observer it looks like this particular rule has been bent and then snapped.
So when did this go from being a rule bend to outright cheating? In my opinion it was when a foreign object was brought onto the field and that this foreign object had been sanctioned for use by the player's coach and team. Other examples would be when the England cricket team were caught using sticky sweets to make the ball swing more, or a boxer injecting mercury into his gloves to make them heavier.
The problem for Rugby players is that this distinction is not easy for them to make. The whole game is about pushing boundaries. Stamping, punching, fighting and biting are widely recognised as being part of the game but all are banned by the sports rules. So why not blood capsules? Basically with Rugby Union turning professional there is now so much at stake that players and coaches will do anything to win, even if it means turning to theatrical blood more often associated with Hulk Hogan than rugby players.
I respect Rugby players and their play to win ethic, but they must be careful that they don't overstep the mark and end up making the same mistake that football made with issues like diving and feigning injury. Both these issues were badly dealt with by football's main governing bodies and has led to both now being 'accepted as part of the game'. Rugby's main attraction to its fans and followers is that it is a man's sport played by hard but honest men. If the governing bodies had not handed out these punishments (which I still think are a bit lax, I see this as being as bad as drugs abuse which would have carried a far heavier ban or fine) then those same fans may as well go and watch men in tights rubbing each other at Wrestle mania.