Sport and politics

January 14, 2003 ,

THE row about whether the England cricket team should play Zimbabwe has rekindled the argument about sport and politics.

In the old days, it was about whether Wales and the British Lions should play the South Africans. Indeed, the current Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain, cut his political teeth on the ‘Stop the Tour' campaign.

One of my boyhood sporting heroes was John Taylor, the ‘Socialist Flanker,' who played for London Welsh and Wales. He was famous for two things.

The first was the last minute touchline conversion he kicked at Murrayfield in 1971 to give Wales a 19-18 victory over Scotland and the Triple Crown.

It was claimed later by chapel going Welsh fans that this was the greatest conversion since St. Paul.

The second claim to fame was his brave stand in refusing to tour South Africa with the British Lions because of his repugnance of Apartheid.

Compare his stand with the craven English cricket authorities in 1968 who, at first, did not select their top batsman Basil D'Oliveira. The South African government had objected because he was ‘coloured.'

Of course sport and politics are intertwined. How often have we heard the Welsh Rugby Union criticise politicians for commenting on the running of rugby in Wales, whilst at the same time asking for more public money to bail out the debts of the Millennium Stadium or for Objective One cash for rugby academies?

Professional sports administrators understand the link. They also know that sport can play a vital role in improving public health, reducing crime and in economic development; all important political issues.

It was refreshing this week to meet David Moffett, the straight-talking Australian who is the new Chief Executive of the WRU. I told him how officials from the English Rugby Football Union had come to the House of Commons last year to lobby Welsh MPs to support their bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2007.

I was appalled at the plans which at the time involved no games at the Millennium Stadium. When I told a member of the WRU General Committee about this he simply could not understand why the RFU would talk to MPs.

‘What's it got to do with you?' he said.

He had no concept that £46m of public money from the Lottery, or £3m for the Riverside Walk, or the millions spent on marketing the Rugby World Cup had anything to do with politics.

The MPs who met with David Moffett were mightily impressed by his open attitude and determination to save the game of rugby in Wales. Declining and ageing crowds, a failing national side, a pitiful record in Europe, mounting debt, administrative incompetence are threatening the future of the game.

On the eve of the Six Nations Championship, David Moffett deserves the support everyone of who cares about the sport in Wales. And if he can show that the days of committeism and incompetence are over, politicians should respond with the resources the game may need to survive and prosper.