The Rugby World Cup is just over two months away and many believe this could be the tournament that sets the tone for the game’s future moving forward.
Rugby Union has only officially been a professional sport for 20 years and as was to be expected it has suffered some growing pains. Some formerly strong nations have struggled to compete in the professional era as money simply is not there for them to match their counterparts in other countries.
The game has struggled to move away from the amateur days of muddied oafs. Drinking post match remains very much part of the post game ritual and globally the top unions have faced issues with their top players hitting the bottle as the testosterone subsides once the final whistle has sounded.
However it is not alcohol that is believed to be devil lurking in the shadows, but drug abuse. The 2015 World Cup is expected to be a tournament where more players are expected to fail drug tests than any other World Cup before.
Sadly young players have and still do feel pressure to “bulk up” if they are to make the higher grades. With the game becoming more reliant on power this comes as no surprise.
Sam Chalmers son of former Scotland International Craig has just finished serving a two year ban after testing positive to anabolic steroids. He admitted taking a pill called Pro-SD in an attempt to increase his size and stature on the pitch after being repeatedly told he was too small. He has in some small way been used as an example to try and warn other young players against going down such a route in their search for success. However his father feels that the authorities have not used his example enough to educate with vigour and inform young players of the perils of trying to fast-track their way to the top.
Ian Ritchie the Chief Executive at the RFU recently admitted that the sport has a dilemma which requires urgent attention.
Incredibly of the 48 athletes currently under suspension in the UK after anti-doping violations, 27 are from Rugby Union. What are the figures amongst the other unions? How many players have thus far slipped through the net? Rest assured that more will be found at the Rugby World Cup.
In the UK England coach Stuart Lancaster who comes from a development background has already started to involve players parents, as well as those who inspire individuals in their formative years such as teachers and coaches to try and help educate against such methods and options. He has tapped into former internationals to try and give the current crop of possible and probable players to try and make them aware of the heritage attached to pulling on the national shirt.
Lancaster freely admits that he has been influenced by the All Blacks; nothing to be ashamed of there, if you want to learn, learns from the best. The legacy that the All Blacks have followed for many years is expressed as “planting trees you will never see.” Meaning that to where the famous shirt requires a level of personal integrity and a commitment to a much higher cause and tradition.
Lancaster has already set his stall by leaving the outstanding centre Manu Tuilagi out of his initial World Cup squad. The player having been convicted for assaulting two female Police officers.
Ultimately as a coach he will be judged on results on the pitch, but in the long term his principles and strong noble leadership may well have a profound impact on English Rugby in the years to come. Let us hope that others in other Unions follow his lead, as after all the game, all games, must be bigger than individuals, and the pride in donning the national jersey should never be sullied.