Last night’s debacle in Paris was truly surreal. With about three minutes to go before the scheduled kick-off the France – Ireland rugby international was called off due to an unplayable pitch. 75,000 disapointed fans greeted the official announcement, made about ten minutes later by some faceless official, with a resounding chorus of boos. For many of them it will be their only chance to express their felling about the match. How many of the crowd hung onto their ticket stubs – which would allow them entry to the re-arranged fixture – I wonder ? And how many of the Irish attendees, who have spent up to €1000 and wasted two days, will have the heart or the cash to make the journey a second time?
Up to the introduction of Italy to the competition, which pretty much coincided with the total dominance of television over the scheduling of matches, all of the fixtures were played on a Saturday. For years you had to decide which match to watch as they all kicked off at the same time. Now I’m not claiming to desire a return to ‘the bad old days’ and I don’t really mind when they schedule two matches for Saturday and one for Sunday, although it does take away part of the old decisive atmosphere of the Saturday when all the fixtures were resolved together. But why on Earth would anyone want to schedule an international match for a Friday night – unless of course you are a bottom feeding TV executive with no interest in the good of the game or the players or the supporters. And why would anyone want to schedule a rugby international for a Saturday night at 9.00 pm (local time)? I refer you to the bottom-feeding remark in the last sentence for my only possible explanation.
So last night, at the insistence of the TV company, whose only connection to the sport is that they bought the rights to trelevise the game, France – Ireland was scheduled to kick off at 9.00 pm, on a February evening, when the temperatures were near zero and dropping rapidly. Even during the day the match would have been under threat, but all the pundits agreed that they kew from midweek that the match never had a chance under the circumstances. So due to the greed of TV, the match was called off – for the safety of the palyers. Had they cared about the safety of the players, or any aspect of rugby or any other sport, they would have called off he game in time to prevent last night’s fiasco, or they would never have scheduled the match for such a STUPID time. But shame of the Rugby authorities for allowing such a travesty.
I went to the USA to see the football (soccer) World Cup in 1994. following the Irish team, I went to Orlando, Florida. Naturally, the locals had no interest in the game – but more than the 1.69 million population of Qatar who bizzarely will host the 2022 World Cup. Yet again the 1994 competition was dominated by TV. As we pulle up to the stadium where Ireland were due to play Mexico, the coach driver, a local, observed that in all his time driving sports fans in Orlando, he had never been to the stadium in daylight hours. Ireland were due to kick off at midday in temperatures the driver remarked nobody in their right mind would attempt to play sports in. But in order to hit prime time TV in Europe, a high noon kickoff it was. Predictably several of the (interestingly pale) Irish side suffered from heat exhaustion. But it was worth it – for the good old folks back home, whose money now runs all professional sport.
Isn’t it time that the people who claim to care about sport, the so-called ruling bodies, put their foot down and dictate to the TV companies when they may film their sports? But I guess that will never happen – money dictates everything that happens in sport today. No-one cares that the real fans don’t want to watch rugby on a Saturday evening at 9.00 pm. This is family time. this is the time when men can lose the fight for the remote control – or maybe a body part they were really fond of.