Friday, 17 June 2011

The Socialist Republic of the Premiership

My musings on Gloucester shareholder Tom Walkinshaw's declaration that Premiership Rugby has its roots "somewhere in socialism"

Those volatile elements, sport and politics, need to be handled carefully whenever there's the slightest whiff that they might be about to combine. Otherwise there can be an unholy combustion.

Inevitably, the debate over the impending increase of the Premiership salary cap has generated a political debate with a small 'p'. Some clubs want it, others aren't so keen. One club has x agenda, another has y agenda.

Such internal politics are bound to occur within Premiership Rugby, the organisation which comprises the top dozen English sides.

What isn't inevitable is the manner in which certain clubs chose to publicly vent their views on the matter.

Ryan Walkinshaw, a major shareholder at Gloucester and the son of former owner Tom, this week gave a revealing interview which was as frank as it was engaging.

Walkinshaw clearly has a passion for the game that rivals his father's and the 23-year-old's views on its future are both well articulated and, in many cases, plausible.

But one of his remarks will no doubt prompt a few raised eyebrows.

"The whole idea of Premiership Rugby as a body has a base somewhere in socialism, in that we are all in it together, for the good of the sport."

During my time as an amateur player, and during my time as a rugby writer, I have to say I haven't had that many discussions about socialism. So it was intriguing to discover that one of the biggest players in the domestic game believes aspects of English professional rugby have their roots in Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto.

I can understand Walkinshaw's sentiments – English clubs do, to a degree, need to co-operate for the good of the game – but the problem is that the game is not played in an English bubble. There is Europe to worry about, too.

Holding back other English clubs because you don't have the money that they have (as Gloucester seem to want to do) might serve your self-interest but it will have the wider effect of harming English clubs' prospects on the European stage.

In that regard, Walkinshaw's proposals are inward-looking and redolent of a 'closed shop' mentality. That attitude won't help an English club lift the Heineken Cup. And would that be "for the good of the sport"?

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