Saving Face

Here in Britain, we might not know much about winning at sport, but we do know about fair play -- about the way games SHOULD be played. Play up, play up and play the game -- that has always been our motto.

And if ever there was a sport which encapsulated that spirit, it is rugby. You may have seen it on TV. Played with an egg shaped ball which bounces off at erratic angles, chased by hulking young men who thunder into each other with complete disdain for broken bones -- it's a bit like your football, but without the padding or the rules. Inside a rugby scrum they might gouge each others' eyes, bite and grab parts of the anatomy which make the eyes water, but hey, this is a man's game.

More importantly, they call the referee 'sir' and obey his every command. They are British you see. If soccer is a gentleman's game played by thugs, then rugby is a thug's game played by gentlemen. Or so we were told.

And then came the revelations about a player called Tom Williams at London's Harlequins Rugby Club. In the final five minutes of a game in April, the coach decided he wanted Williams off and another man on, so Williams was told to chew on a capsule of red dye hidden in his sock, in order to feign injury. Off he came.

Harlequins lost anyway, but after the final whistle, it all got much worse. The opposition's doctor was suspicious and said he wanted to see the injury. So Williams alleges he got his team doctor to cut his mouth with a scalpel.

As ever, it was the cover up that caused the main damage. We now hear from the player that his club offered him a lucrative compensation package to keep details of the affair secret. Instead, he opted to tell the truth and try to salvage his career. Faking an injury as Harlequins did is organized cheating. It is not playing the game, it is destroying the game. And meanwhile the noble sport of rugby, which has occupied a kind of moral pedestal in this country, has tumbled into the dust.
By Peter Allen here