“4 more years” – to sort out the IRB
And to think – 4 years ago – I had blamed the poor French.
In 2007, I found myself in the city of Lyon in a queue outside the Stade de Gerland, about to attend the Rugby World Cup Pool B match featuring Australia and Japan. I wore a green and gold karate headband, adorned with a kangaroo instead of the rising sun – an act that is about as hilarious as ironic racism gets.
As we neared the entrance to the stadium, a gruff attendant approached me, pointed to a camera around my neck and waggled his finger in that French way that is camp, arrogant and intimidating all at the same time. After some confused back-and-forth, including my own bastardised exclamation of “Ne pas SERIOUS?!”, I eventually checked my camera into an outside office, to be picked up after the game. The pile of Nikons in that room looked like some grotesque, paparazzi, torture tableau.
My own illegal contraband was a Canon 400D – a digital SLR camera with a single lense (15-50mm), no longer than my pinkie finger. With that device – sitting anywhere that wasn’t on grass – I would have been able to roughly work out which team was Australia, based on the fact that we were playing Japan, and Nathan Sharpe is six foot seven. The camera had two purposes only – to record personal memories of an overseas trip with my parents and girlfriend, and eventually to be left in some random bar after the game when I got drunk. I soothed my frayed nerves before kickoff with a cold, plastic cup of “Amstel Sans Alcool”.
What I initially thought was an act of French bastardry not witnessed since they snuck around the back at Agincourt turned out to be an official IRB mandate. Back in quaint old 2007, the IRB – in an attempt to protect the rugby product – banned spectators from bringing cameras into the ground that may have been able to produce photos that could be used for publication. These were constraints placed on actual, paying ticketholders – many of whom had travelled thousands of miles to witness the spectacle (and by spectacle, I mean watching a referee trying to even-up a match between the likes of the Wallabies and Fiji).
The restrictions initially placed on the accredited media were even more arcane. For example, only 10 pictures could be broadcast from the stadium and published on a website during the course of the match. 2007 – with it’s pesky Interwebs! After all, you take pictures quickly enough and join them together and – brother, you got yourself some live coverage! Other rules included banning overlaying text across a published photo (say, a headline or the name of a player) and refusing to allow any mobile phone content.
Not only are the IRB happy to bite the hand that feeds them, they want to put a 10-mile exclusion zone around the whole farm, and patrol it with snipers.
This year, it was time again for the IRB to pass calligraphic parchments from their dark, smoke filled rooms, placing new restrictions on the media. In “ought-eleven”, they were having none of this Youtube malarkey, and deemed that online media providers could not accompany any video highlights with advertisements from their own sponsors. Heaven forbid Extra Dry try to muscle in on Heineken territory (as if taste itself wouldn’t be the deciding factor in that match-up). Such was the threat this restriction posed, both Fairfax Newspapers and Rupert Murdoch’s own News Ltd joined together and refused IRB accrediation. Remember when Hulk Hogan rescued Randy Mucho Man Savage from a Hart Foundation beatdown? When your outdated restrictions have Fairfax and News Ltd shaking hands, surely you’re doing something wrong.
So instead, the unaccredited Sydney Morning Herald and Australian journalists sat in the stands, or in front of their widescreen plasmas at home, and did pretty much the same job they were going to do, just without a badge, and without – one would imagine – having to be strip searched and deloused before entering every stadium. They sourced video and images in pretty much the same way, without threatening their online earnings. In fact, I probably would not have noticed this development at all, except I have a permanent Google News alert running, for the phrase “the IRB and Steve Jobs are the seven white men running the world”.
And if it’s not those pesky reporters – it’s the silly branded mouthguards. There are not enough elbow patches, or slightly raised eyebrows in the world, for the IRB to express their disdain.
All of this masks a far bigger problem. Whilst the IRB runs around in circles, kidney-punching reporters and spitting on ticketholders in order to protect their product, the quality of the product itself is in decline. Sure – the final match between France and New Zealand was a tight, rousing affair, but was this a result the IRB deserved? Red cards, fixture lists, referees, mouthguards, Samoans on twitter- with all the kerfuffel the IRB created for themselves, did their “product” warrant a 9-8 victory to New Zealand that had Richie McGaw throwing that wry smile and lifting the Cup – a battered nation breathing a sigh of relief?
The International Rugby Board should have given the French side a big hug, but instead, their final act of the tournament was to substantially fine them for holding hands.
I could almost see the Head of the IRB watching the coverage of this moving French tribute from their plastic-covered, floral print sofa, through a haze of pipe smoke.
“I say, what do these Gaul bastards think they’re doing…. the f&*king LIBERTY!”
In any case, the International Rugby Board needs to find a way to protect their product without attacking everyone involved in it’s creation – fans, media and teams alike. Because while Luis Suarez keeps banging in goals like this, rugby union cannot afford to push away a single ticket buyer, a lone reporter or one Samoan winger with a mobile phone.