DAVID BARNES in YOKOHAMA
WORLD RUGBY has stated it will convene a hearing of its independent disputes committee to look into comments made by Scotland Rugby Union (SRU) chief executive Mark Dodson in response to the threat of the national team’s final pool match being cancelled due to the impact of Typhoon Hagibis.
“Under our tournament rules, we are very careful that people behave appropriately, and as a result of that we’ve referred to and independent disputes committee the behaviour and comments of the Scottish Rugby Union,” said World Cup tournament director Alan Gilpin. “On that basis it’s probably inappropriate for us to comment any further.”
It has been widely reported that Dodson threatened to sue World Rugby, although it is not clear when he said this publicly. He did say that he had taken legal advice, but that is a very different thing to threatening legal action.
He spoke at a press conference in Yokohama on Friday in a clear attempt to harness public support for Scotland’s plight, and to cajole World Rugby into taking a more flexible view towards moving the game if Typhoon Hagibis rendered the International Stadium Yokohama unplayable on Sunday night.
During the press briefing, Dodson was asked if he would consider taking legal action.
“I think our view is that we have to reflect on that matter at that time. This is a glorious, world-class sporting occasion. We don’t want to be the people that taint that. But we also don’t want to be the collateral damage of this. This is important to us as a nation, and I think the rugby following public around the globe believe the same way. And I think we’re being, if you like, driven down a tramline around scheduling flexibility that doesn’t need to be there. And that’s why we took the legal route. It was just to say we’ve had a different opinion, two different opinions, one from the QC, that challenges that rigidity over scheduling.”
Earlier in the day, he had appeared on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Asked what Scottish Rugby planned to do about the prospect of a cancellation, he said:
“World Rugby is pointing us back to the participation agreement. We’ve had legal opinion – from a leading QC – that challenges World Rugby’s interpretation.”
Asked if it was too late to change anything, he replied:
“We don’t know that – we have to challenge it. But we should be talking about this from a rugby perspective, this is about the game and the rugby supporters across the world are absolutely astounded at this rigidity from World Rugby. The common sense approach to this is to play the game 24 hours later on perfect safety where we can make sure that the pool stages are completed, and the sporting integrity of the tournament remains intact.”
Asked if the game being cancelled would be the end of the matter, he replied:
“At this stage it is too early to say. My point is that World Rugby will be listening to what is happening around the world – I think opinion on social media is rising all the time about the injustice of this. I feel for our Italian friends as well, they had no participation in any of the decisions and they are on their way home already, and my view is that we’re not going to let Scotland be the collateral damage for a decision that was taken in haste.”
On Thursday [the day before Dodson’s press briefings], The Daily Telegraph ran an article claiming that: “At a series of lengthy and bad-tempered meetings, which lasted for most of Thursday and ended late into the evening, Scottish Rugby’s chief executive Mark Dodson – who was described by one insider as being “in a state of apoplexy” – and chief operating officer Dominic McKay were fighting to ensure that their final pool game goes ahead.”
The article then claimed: “In a development that seems sure to cloud the rest of the tournament and have ramifications way into the future, insiders claim that the match between the All Blacks and Italy could have been postponed until Monday, but that the All Blacks were not willing to consider a turnaround of just five days between their final pool game and their quarter-final, which is due to be played on Saturday 19th October.”
The article concluded with a quote from an unnamed Scottish Rugby spokesman:
“We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get this game [between Scotland and Japan] on. There are 10,000 Scotland supporters here to see their team play, and for the integrity of the sport and this tournament, we’ve got to find a way to deliver on our undertaking to stage this game.
“World Rugby said three or four months ago that they had contingency plans in place to address any problems or challenges that might occur, and we took them at their word. We now expect them to deploy those contingency plans and ensure this match goes ahead. The fans, players and everyone who loves rugby will demand nothing less. The whole situation is almost beyond belief.”
The match went ahead in the end, with Japan winning 28-21 to secure their passage to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, while Gregor Townsend’s team head home. It is a disappointing conclusion to the tournament for Scotland but there was a measure of relief that the outcome was decided on the field of play.
It seems very strange that World Rugby have chosen to prolong the fall-out from this whole unsavoury affair rather than draw a line under it and focus purely instead on making sure that the remainder of this World Cup is remembered for the right reasons.