IS RUGBY UNION MORPHING INTO AN AMORPHOUS BEAST ?? Perhaps this is the strategic vision of World Rugby 2021-2031 ?? What do you think ??

Open Letter to the Global Rugby Union Community – Today 06/04/2021

  • Published on August 2, 2020 (8 months ago !!)

Today, Sunday 2nd August 2020, following a set of flooding memoirs, biographic and historic reflections, all supplemented by recollections of 36 years in Australia.

Shall I continue asking questions to myself first, then to friends, and now the community at large until some clarity sets in the horizon. COVID 19, apart from the horrible suffering and loss of lives; it has given us an almighty shock of having so much time to THINK & CONSULT. This precious impasse, time to meditate reflect, and for the time being… we have stopped chasing our tails, and today no tail ‘wags’ any dog!

My promise here is… it will entertain your eyes and minds for a few precious minutes. A sort of investment, I truly hope this letter triggers our collective ‘thinking’ juices and imagination much further away than what we are accustomed to. The moral of the story in question for me today (here and now) is and will be… Is it true that…

“The more I get to know human beings, the more I love my dog”

Looking at and having observed in-depth for many years (1971-2020) the likes of Argentine, Australian and World Rugby. Their management and mismanagement history of good results and enormous failures – Experiences had with planning, preparation, dedication and… its OUTCOMES | SEQUELS LEGACY | PERMANENT DISABILITY AND/OR CATASTROPHIC INJURIES. Truncated lives and short-lived potentials – A very sad story that needs to be told, thus I happen to be at the epicentre of it… recounted by me in the Centre of impossibilities.

Has professional-Paid-rugby since 1996 solved more problems than the professional-Non-Paid-rugby pre-1996 did for many years? As far as I’m concerned and am able to see, all it has changed is the size of The Gravy Train (coffers). And more sticky hands playing with dough!

Since 1981, when by millimetres’ DID NOT become another quadriplegic of rugby union; all thanks to my 62 cm neck, thanks to my well-known and super disciplined neck exercises regular routine, here I am telling you this story from a standard office chair. [meaning, not -a-wheelchair, get it?

In May 1984, I saw from the bar at Warringah RC clubhouse the ABC Channel 2, the last 15 minutes “Match of the Day” between Sydney University FC vs Western Suburbs RC; and at that moment the Westpac helicopter was airlifting Grant Harper (WSRC No 3) with a broken neck! – At that very moment, I had a (RED LIGHT) flashback to July 1981 and the injury I suffered in a scrum in Cordoba playing for Tala Rugby Club vs Bajo Palermo RC 24 hours after I played a test-match when Argentina draw vs England in Buenos Aires at Ferrocarril Oeste Stadium.

The year 1985, we saw in the news and on the field, three schoolboys who were rendered quadriplegic from injuries playing rugby union, one died. THE RED LANTERN IS ON AGAIN. Through the cooperation from highly experienced and truly professional journalist Jim Webster (Sydney Morning Herald), I managed to get published some photos doing with my neck exercises (with my English/Spanish – Spanish/English dictionary, and a description of the routines. That article on full back page attracted a lot of interest. So much so to that the NSW Department of Sports & Recreation (Michael Cleary dual international Minister); commissioned SPINESAFE LIMITED the production of a brochure/flier about AWARENESS & PREVENTION. Prof John Yeo AO (Founder & Chairman), Prof Sue Rutkowski (Spine Specialist, Head Royal North Shore Hospital (Spinal Unit); Dr James Middleton and many others worked in an extraordinary campaign targeting the NSW High Schools (to both male and female athletes). I was invited to display my neck + back + abdominals conditioning exercises routine in an instructional video and some brouchures. Accompanied by the science behind it, and my own experiential knowledge re fitness and preparation fr rugby = The spinal injuries diminished (for a while) but then people switch off about prevention and THE PROBLEM IS BACK ON (thus, more $$$ to be spent in new modern solutions)

In 2019 there were four well reported and documented injuries (3 GPS’ schools in Brisbane) and another one in NSW GPS’ School. Rugby Australia took its time and 5 months later had a brilliant idea of appointing a QC and some ex-Wallabies from QLD & NSW Are they experts in spinal injuries prevention? (???) Not much has passed by today!

You parents should be Red of Rage because no real action has been taken to correct and redress the problem. We in Australia are still swimming around defficiencies and inept ill-prepared people. This is oner of the Australian problems!!!

Back on 1995-96, Prof John Yeo AO invited me to form part of the SPINESAFE Limited Team, as a Director of the Board, charged with Awareness & Prevention for Contact Sports. While lecturing school kids I also learnt more about the sciences of prevention and preparation. We also had a team of ‘Lecturers’ on wheelchairs going to schools and talking to kids about the vital importance of:

1.      Wearing seatbelts when driving or when being driven

2.      Wearing helmets when riding bikes, skateboards, etc.

3.      Playing by the rules; particularly ibn ‘contact’ sports 

4.      Not diving in shallow water, etc.

5.      The importance of physical, mental, and emotional preparation.

MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL for any preventative program is the continuous ‘follow through’ and ‘follow through’, and… follow through!

July 1998 – Melbourne Hilton on The Park – International Conference organised by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons), titled “and FOOTBALL AUSTRALASIA ‘Reducing the injury list’. I was invited by the RACS to officially present ‘SNIPP’ (Spinal & Neck Injuries Prevention Program), which was designed by a collaborative effort of several Exercise Physiologists, Physiotherapists (Greg Craig and Ian Collier); also Educators, Doctors and Professors (SPINSAFE Limited) Board of Directors. I was the coordinator and Chief Instigator Officer Leading the charge.

SNIPP was at the time, offered to the Australian Rugby Union (John O’Neill and Matt Carroll) who declined this initiative stating, words to this extent:

“The ARU is sufficiently covered in these areas and matters of concern. Our Coaches and players are very well versed and equipped to manage these risks” We are also advised by our insurers and we are well up to date on risks management initiatives” (Thanks Jack, no Jack,

She’ll be right mate!)

In 1996, I embarked myself in producing a ‘Scrummaging Manual for Coaches’; I did try very hard to obtain some sort of either official support, endorsement and even some funding. Tried with the ARU, the National Coach and the NSWRU (nothing forthcoming yet).

October 1998, I was invited by an Argentine traumatologist, Dr Luis Poggi and PE Rugby Coach Jorge Braceras (both ex-Pumas); to present a dissertation on “Awareness & Prevention of All Preventable Injuries in Rugby” in Buenos Aires. This event was organised by the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) and the ‘Fundación Rugby Amistad’ (an Argentine Social Welfare group of ex-rugby players affected by Neck and Spinal cord injuries.

Fifteen years later, in October 2011 published my first Project-Book (the abridged version of TAOS, The ART of Scrummaging). In August 2012, self-published in Sydney The ART of Scrummaging I, a 220-page Thesis and History of Scrummaging. ISBD: ISBN13: 9780987210302 (Amazon.com)

In September 2012, I volunteered to the UAR, a project proposal for an International Scrummaging Academy to be established in Buenos Aires with an emphasis on “SAFETY FIRST” – (Preventing-All-Preventable-Accidents). President of UAR Jorge Castillo; Vice-President Carlos Araujo; and IRB UAR Delegate Representative Agustin Pichot. (Three deaf ears).

Just for a moment, I invite you to think and conduct a conscience review. “How many spinal injuries may or may not have been prevented in the period 2012-2020 with a professional, specific and adequate Prevention Program???

October 2015, published by Meyer & Meyer Sports (Germany); RUGBY – The ART of Scrummaging II (A 379-page updated revised version of TAOS I (including theories, comments and recommendations in regards to the new scrum engagement sequence (Crouch, Pause, Set) which was introduced by the IRB in May 2015, and later ratified and adopted for the 2015 RWC.

Well since then, in 2018 I completed the Leve 4 Performance Coaching Course run by Rugby Australia with authorisation-recognition from IRB/World Rugby global body. In the 18 months of doing the course, we spent approximately 000 minutes on Scrummaging Techniques, Safety Measures, Tactics and Strategies (zilch) It’s again beggar’s belief…

And here we go, some off and some on this Rugby Union Gravy Train (circa 2020), while parents invest money in private schools -not cheap at all- which happens to play Rugby as their No 1 Religion (???). Parents also spend time and energies driving kids around (sometimes leaving the sister or brother unattended) It makes you wonder? What is it that pushes people to ‘short-cut’ safety and preparation all for the name of a School of a certain religious persuasion, or other? I guess they are protecting their own investments.

Rugby World 2020 though,

People of today, responsible folk, Directors of many Boards, it is about time you get your individual and collective heads out-of-the-sand! – Rugby provides a lot of enjoyment for the practitioners and the witnesses, also it is one of the best universities for life (when observed this way). Rugby can be a factory of great people and friends. Nonetheless, egos and greed could be unbearable and generators of nasty petty behaviours.

Furthermore, rugby causes injuries (serious and catastrophic also), head concussions, depression, bipolar disorders, disability, etc. etc. Insurance companies and lawyers know well how these inconvenient truths could spoil the broth. It is a big cake indeed, since the first Rugby World Cup ever, to what it is today? Absolutely obscene because very several people and company executives who have become scandalously mega-rich while the clubs and schools do struggle for 12-months long to stay alive!  

Too much money changing hands between agents, producers, re-insurances, premiums, and claims (ever inadequate or insufficient to cover a quadriplegic for life). How about the premature deaths of bright young and old athletes?

I’m terribly sorry, I know this letter will ruffle plenty of feathers within the rugby and business community. I have tried so many times to join the select “Members of The Rugby Tent” and piss from inside-out but No joy! The Culture-Mafia is so thick you cannot breathe unless you have one of those GPS Masks! – No room for neither migrants nor non-conformists, just YES Minister, sorry YES people.

Approximately two years ago, I applied for the CEO position at RUPA (the Players’ Union, so they say?) – Before completing my CV/Profile I did meet with the Chairman of RUPA, in order to understand a bit about the culture and philosophies which sort of governed this ‘awkward’ entity.

Also tried to meet and talk with another two directors, to no avail. In the meantime, I beefed up my profile with several heavy personal, rugby, and business Referees, which could vouch for my character under those different scenarios. None were ever contacted (of course!). And… I didn’t even get short-listed (I can also tell you I was short-changed all the way). So, not so fast Sunny, it doesn’t matter how much you can prepare ypursef or how good you are? Nepotism is everywhere on and off the field. Nonetheless, if Br X..Y…Z… rings the Chairman?… Wow…McLean you’re in, shoe-in.   

Then about 6 weeks ago, I applied to Hatton Neale Recruiters for the Rugby Australia CEO (soon to be vacated position). I was first to be interviewed (in a list of close to 100 applicants (so I was told by the Chairman of RA in an awkward phone conversation). Two senior Directors of Hatton-Neale, the Sydney based headhunters’ firm, interviewed me for 90 minutes (jaaaa) it was supposed to be a 60-minute interview, so then I thought I’ve done very well, or didn’t I (???). Of course, that funny-weird feeling of being ‘used’ and ‘discarded’ again like a napkin has never left me. 

Nobody from RUGBY AUSTRALIA to be seen. As you do, I rang the Chairman (Mr H. McLennan, again), yet only after leaving several sms’ and voice messages, (me Mr Irrepressible Audacity) Ok, finally got the chance to explain myself a bit further about How Could I possibly save Australian Rugby.

And to explain some of my revolutionary and unorthodox ideas that I could not tell during my first interview? See? Nop, nop, they didn’t see it, and neither did we see an opportunity to impress…the powers to be. C’est la vie mon amis, malade… mais tres jolie!

Nonetheless, I felt the smell of a distinctive fragrance…

Was it ‘Joeys’? Or ‘Iggies’? Nop I think it was ‘Churchies’, perhaps mixed with some drops of Randy Wicks or Students’ Baths. Yesss, here we go again TGT (The Gravy Train) from Rugby to Oxford, to Cambridge, to Camperdown or St Lucia… Very young and very wise people! And How do they do it? (Asked Watson to Sherlock) Quick to respond Sherlock said, “Elementary Watson, General Nepote had a big family that connected the four cardinal points exerting just enough pressure to tip the scale to his chosen side/protege”

Of course, is not going to happen! Q: How much money you reckon Hatton-Neale gets paid for this gargantuan Executive Search? Of course… Mr Rodriguez this is none of your business, Yes Your Honour, terribly sorry!

RUGBY Australia only wants YES people, so they can continue the 100-year hegemony of… two big clubs and… the private schools from three NSW, QLD and ACT states. As an educated guess, I could smell the Voluntary Administration is round the corner; and a handful of well known (GPS’) LIQUIDATOR must be by now sharpening their knives and scissors for the ultimate pruning exercise, albeit much more painful than those neck exercises…that TOPO recommended back in 1996 (24 years ago). When the liquidation process starts, there will be no more money for any supplier, contractors, and/or subcontractors (e.g. sponsors, players, coaches, lawyers, printers, secretaries, etc etc.)

“Those people unwilling to change and adapt soon will find themselves, several hundreds of millions of dollars later, at the bottom of the heap, wondering who, when and what went wrong”.

In real business, they call it: LONG TERM STRATEGIC DIRECTION FOR PRODUCTS & SERVICES DELIVERY – RUGBY AUSTRALIA, UNION ARGENTNA DE RUGBY AND WORLD RUGBY…keep throwing good money after bad money because it makes a hell of a lot of sense!! Namaste!! 

Last but not least, an old marketing maxim quite aptly says:

We must never fall-in-love with our product; nonetheless, I invite you, please do fall in love with our customers asap. Indeed, it shall continue ringing so very true on our faces, yet so distant for many…

Namaste! 

Enrique TOPO Rodriguez

Exec. Chair and MD, The ERC Group

E: toporod@gmail.com Ph: +61412 403304 | PO Box 4131 Carlton NSW 2218 Australia

Sydney, 02/08/2020.

GLOBAL RUGBY UNION… WHERE IS IT GOING? NOWHERE extremely furiously and ultra fast!!! LikeCommentShareLIKE

Enrique TOPO Rodriguez

Impresario | Scrum-muster | Philanthropist | Founder & General Convener, ISSF

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