POSTED: August 21st 2009

'Bloodgate' scandal takes fizz out of rugby's 2016 Olympics champagne

Dean Richards: worldwide suspension /
Dean Richards: worldwide suspension /

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Aug 21: The sporting scandal being labelled as Bloodgate presents rugby union with a weird conundrum only days after the golden gate to the Olympic Games was pushed open.

In Berlin last week the executive board of the International Olympic Committee voted for golf and rugby union’s stripped-down sevens version to be recommended for 2016 access to the IOC members in Copenhagen in October.

A majority vote for each is far from secure; personalised snap polls in Berlin – carrying no scientific relevance – suggested that rugby would probably be voted in and golf, in a gesture of members’ independence of mind, would not. Either way, the four 2016 bid cities – Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo – were united in cheering the prospect of welcoming both sports and assuring them the finest of venues.

Temporary replacement

However, a small cloud blew across that happy horizon four days later when top English club official Dean Richards, one of the game's outstanding personalities over the past two decades, was banned worldwide – terms yet to be clarified - for three years.

Richards’s offence, about which he initially lied, was in overseeing a manipulation of the player replacement rules in a Heineken European Cup quarter-final between Ireland’s Leinster and the London club Harlequins of which he was director of rugby. Competition regulations in rugby union, on health and safety grounds, permit the temporary substitution of a player who has suffered a cut and must leave the pitch for treatment.

In this particular game Quins player Tom Williams had used a fake blood capsule, provided by Richards, to effect his own tactical substitution at a crucial stage late in the game. Only after Williams was hit with a one-year ban did a shocked Richards realise that, better late than never, he needed to own up.

This he did at a disciplinary hearing last Monday and was duly banned with his own reputation in tatters. The former England and British Lion star owned up to having conspired to fake blood injuries on four previous occasions. Also banned, for two years, was Quins physiotherapist Steph Brennan who was suspended from his new role with the England national team.

Williams, having been revealed now as merely a pawn in Richards’s game, had his ban cut to four months.

New club season

With little more than a week to go to the start of the new English club season, the Bloodgate scandal was bad news coming so soon after three senior players of top club Bath had been suspended for dope-test refusals.

Mike Miller, chief executive of the International Rugby Board, reacted appropriately, saying: “We fully support the sanction handed down by European Rugby Cup, which will act as a major deterrent to anyone thinking about doing something similar."

Now Miller has been a chief architect, along with IRB president Bernard Lapasset, of the successful Olympic campaign. Of course rugby union – the 15-man game by contrast with 13-man rugby league – is like every other sport, Olympic and non-Olympic, in having to deal every now and again with high-profile cheating.

Nothing unique there.

Miller and Lapasset and their advisers have worked hard to persuade IOC members of the worldwide profile of the sport. They will hope that despite the arresting nature of the Richards scandal, it will accrue little attention beyond the confines of the English game.

On the other hand, might such inattention suggest that rugby union is not as high-profile as they might wish?

Picture (above right): Tom Williams has had his ban cut /

Keywords · rugby union · 2016 Olympic Games · IRB · Mike Miller · Dean Richards · Tom Williams · Harlequins · Heineken Cup

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