Duncan Smith: Mark Dodson’s stance on Japan game doesn’t deserve ‘egregious behaviour’ label

SRU chief executive Mark Dodson addresses the media during the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson addresses the media during the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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Look up the word “egregious” in a dictionary and you find synonyms such as shocking, appalling, horrific, horrifying, horrible, terrible…

A humble rugby-writing journalist with a 2:1 English Lit degree may not be an expert in law but certainly knows what words mean and that’s a pretty strong one.

Japan defeated Scotland in Yokohama to reach the World Cup quarter-finals. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Japan defeated Scotland in Yokohama to reach the World Cup quarter-finals. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Yesterday the SRU was found guilty by an “independent disputes committee” appointed by World Rugby (or Rugby World Cup Ltd if you prefer) of “egregious behaviour, sitting towards the most serious end of the misconduct spectrum”.

What was this dastardly act they speak of? On-field thuggery, off-field debauchery, flagrant cheating or, to be topical, “financial doping”?

No it was the SRU chief executive, Mark Dodson, pleading for a game of rugby to be played if at all possible.

Yesterday’s ruling was expected, although the £70,000 fine was slightly under the feared six-figure sum after a second charge was dropped, but the way it was presented by the global governing body was extraordinary.

The full ruling can be accessed on the World Rugby website and is lengthy.

The 2019 World Cup in Japan was a triumph but there is no escaping the fact the organisers were clearly woefully prepared for the possibility of typhoon-related disruption, in a tournament scheduled for Japan’s annual typhoon season, despite its well-worn line about “contingency plans”.

Interestingly, in the exhaustive decision document produced yesterday, which includes explanations of all manner of things, there is no revelation of what these contingency plans were.

The “independent disputes committee” was chaired by Christopher Quinlan QC of England, who the SRU attempted but failed to have recused from the role due to his links to World Rugby.

The rules in the participation agreement were clear, for sure. Pool matches must be completed on the scheduled day or be declared 0-0 draws.

Dodson and the SRU’s argument is and remains that there was a clause for “exceptional circumstances”. World Rugby stresses how exceptional was the historic and sadly fatal Typhoon Hagibis.

For all its ferocity, the typhoon on Saturday 12 October passed Yokohama and, arguably, the match of the tournament went ahead in fine conditions after exceptional work by organisers and volunteers.

The Scotsman understands that on the Wednesday before the Japan game the SRU was getting jitters that the mindset was that the match in Yokohama would follow the same fate as England v France, New Zealand v Italy and, ultimately, Namibia v Canada, and be scratched.

Italy, remember, still had an outside chance of reaching the quarter-finals. That’s when the SRU decided to move to ensure Scotland’s World Cup fate would be determined on the field of play if at all possible.

Dodson and the SRU have their critics, often in these pages, but it’s difficult to view yesterday’s verdict as anything other than an attempt by a world governing body to muzzle dissent and curb free speech, crushing it like a butterfly on a wheel. Perhaps, as a balancing thought, it could give the SRU chief and others in power at Murrayfield an insight into how some in the grassroots of the Scottish game feel when faced with the seeming might of Murrayfield.

The overriding feeling on this, though, is that World Rugby has overreacted to what seems to have been a logical and sensitive response to the situation on the ground as it was unfolding.

There is no doubt embarrassment that matches were left unfulfilled and, perhaps, a need to lash out at Scotland.

The SRU, which undeniably has done a great deal of work to foster links with Japan, should be right to be aggrieved by the conflation of a £70,000 fine and a contribution to charity assisting the typhoon relief effort.