On the 27th August 1895 22 clubs from the north of England ceded from the Rugby Football Union so that they might form a rival professional organisation. Rugby League was born and soon prospered. In spite of this Rugby Union remained staunchly true to its roots, retaining amateur status for almost precisely a century.
100 year later on the 26th August 1995 the International Rugby Board repealed the sport’s amateur regulations and declared the sport ‘open’. It has remained so ever since.
Such a profound break with tradition did not happen lightly. The English, Irish, Scottish, French, Japanese, Namibian, Western Samoan, Italian, Argentinian and Romanian Rugby Unions were all initially against the proposal.
The New Zealand, Australia and USA Rugby Unions were in favour, as was Vernon Pugh, then Chairman of the IRB Amateur Committee, who said “The concept of amateurism as a central philosophy of the Game is redundant”.
After twenty years of professionalism it is interesting to look back on the arguments for and against the repeal of the amateur regulations back in the summer of 1995.
Case AGAINST repealing regulations and remaining amateur:
- To retain the ethos of the game as it applies to sportsmanship, respect, enjoyment
- To protect the game from predatory commercial interests
- Less money will be available to develop grassroots involvement
- Unpaid administrators will no longer remain in the game
- Poorer unions will become increasingly disadvantaged
- Access to government, municipal and local authority funding will be curtailed
- Clubs and national unions cannot afford to pay players
- Rugby League will find it easier to recruit players if the game were professional
- Unequal payments will lead to disharmony amongst players
- The distinction between Rugby Union and Rugby League will be lost
Case FOR repealing amateur regulations:
- Amateurism is not properly enforced in most major unions
- Professionalism already exists in all but name
- Professionalization will take place with or without the endorsement of the IRB and national unions
- It is an anachronism that administrators and executives may be paid but that players and coaches may not
- Payment in principle is readily understood and observed
- Rugby Union is the only global sport not to have satisfactorily addressed the issue of payment