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Rugby risks no more than other contact sports

Once again the World Rugby Classic has courted controversy which is a great shame given that it remains one of the most, if not most popular annual sporting events.

In terms of attendance, it's difficult to find any other event which attracts so many spectators on every day it's played.

It certainly outstrips the Grand of Slam of Golf, which may come as a surprise to those who don't follow the sport.

And while it isn't beamed into homes across North America, it is televised and broadcast in other parts of the world, doing its level best to bring in more tourists.

Players, coaches, friends and family from eight different countries put that figure into the hundreds.

That's likely to continue despite the career threatening injury suffered by American Leif Gibson on the opening night of the Classic.

South African culprit Robbie Kempson has expressed his remorse and claims he had no intention of inflicting such trauma on his opponent.

But it was an off-the-ball act that rugby authorities have gone to great lengths to eliminate from the game and ensure players are appropriately punished.

And Kempson has a history of this kind of unsportsmanlike behaviour. In 2003 he was banned for four weeks after found guilty of hitting Australian vice-captain Toutai Kefu in the back with an illegal tackle.

Kefu was diagnosed with 'spinal concussion' but reportedly escaped any lasting damage.

On this occasion Kempson was arrested, spent time in custody before learning he wouldn't be charged and won't play any further part in the Classic.

Whether he's disciplined by the South African management remains to be seen.

All that apart, the danger now is that any perception rugby is a barbaric sport will be inflated.

It's a tough, rugged, uncompromising sport where quite naturally injuries, some serious, are always going to occur.

There are plenty of bone-crunching tackles from which players might get up thinking they've been flattened by a double-decker bus.

No quarter is given and none expected.

The players are well aware of the risks they face every time they pull on a shirt.

Yet it's less dangerous than some contact sports.

Ice hockey (where thuggery is actually encouraged), American football, boxing, even football carry significant risks.

Accusations that rugby is intentionally violent are fictitious.

Indeed, off the field camaraderie between opposing players exists probably more than in any other sport.

Hopefully, the unfortunate incident at the start of this year's Classic won't tarnish the event's image.

It remains from both a sporting and social point of view something that has contributed enormously to Bermuda's reputation as a haven for leading international events.

And it's contributed to the economy (if only in terms of the record amounts of alcohol consumed in a single week).

Those recently appointed to the panel which will explore other avenues where sports tourism can be expanded could do worse than take a close look at how the Classic is organised and promoted.

And they may find it difficult to come up with anything as entertaining.

* * * *

Bermuda Department of Tourism should get a pat on the back for ensuring the Grand Slam of Golf will remain at Port Royal for another two years, especially as San Diego were keen to take over as hosts and Hawaii rumoured to have it brought back to their shores.

But now that same department has to come up with ways that will better market it overseas.

It's already shown to millions of TV viewers after each round. But it seems little is done to bring in tourists specifically to watch it live.

One suggestion might be that a tournament such as the Goodwill be scheduled around the Slam. Teams from overseas could play two days before the Slam and two days after — at four courses other than Port Royal.

In its heyday, the Goodwill brought in as many as 100 four-member teams from the US, Canada and England. Since then numbers have dropped off markedly.

But give those teams a free pass to see some of the world's greatest players in a tournament sandwiched between their own tournament, then you can almost guarantee that many would return.

The Slam would benefit from increased attendance and tourism from additional visitors at what might be considered the tailend of the summer season.

Having secured the event for at least 2014, there are opportunities to ensure it can remain here much longer.

ADRIAN ROBSON

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Published November 15, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated November 16, 2012 at 12:15 am)

Rugby risks no more than other contact sports

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