The Rugby Football Union has been criticized by MPs for underpaying hundreds of employees who worked at Twickenham on Saturday, when England beat France 44-8, according to Alex Lowe of the LONDON TIMES. RFU interim CEO Nigel Melville was sent a letter this week, signed by 43 MPs, which accused the governing body of "falling below the level of performance expected of you when it comes to pay." Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Twickenham, was one of the signatories calling for the RFU to "pay casual employees the voluntary real living wage." The same letter, organized by Jo Stevens MP, was sent to the Welsh Rugby Union and Scottish Rugby Union. As of Saturday, she was yet to receive a reply from any of the three CEOs. The real living wage, a rate based on what people need to live, is £10.55 ($13.66) an hour in London and £9 ($11.66) for the rest of the U.K. Bar and cleaning roles being advertised for the Six Nations match started at £7.83 ($10.14) an hour (LONDON TIMES, 2/9).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
The National Rugby League "declared war" on "dead time" after games last year, on average, went five minutes longer despite there being "only an additional seven seconds in playing time," according to Roy Masters of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. While an early-season "penalty blitz" by referees contributed to some of the "dead time," the over-use of replays of tries by officials in the bunker was a "major contributor to a decline in the percentage of time where the ball was in play." With games "stretching" to 94 minutes and 44 seconds from kickoff to final whistle, the amount of dead time "grew" to 41 minutes and 52 seconds. Those are "damning numbers" for a sport which relies on TV rights fees and seeks to attract an audience of the "short-attention-span millenials" who are "increasingly agnostic over what screen they watch." In a document sent to club football department execs, the NRL requested a "major reduction" in the time spent by bunker officials reviewing tries, writing, "The primary focus of bunker review officials should be to determine if there is sufficient evidence to overturn the live decision of the referee." Translation: "Unless the match referee has missed something very obvious, the video referee will be expected to uphold his decision." The NRL already announced other moves to cut "dead time," such as reducing by five seconds the time players "must form a scrum or re-start with a drop kick" (SMH, 2/11).
A midweek resumption for horse racing "appears a lot closer" following news on Saturday that "no new positives have been found for equine influenza," after scientists "had worked night and day at the Animal Health Trust to process swabs taken from hundreds of racehorses," according to Chris Cook of the London GUARDIAN. That was "especially good news" for Durham trainer Rebecca Menzies, whose horses tested clear "in spite of the worrying symptoms exhibited by three of her charges." She said, "My team here are all delighted. My grateful thanks on behalf of ourselves and all racing fans to the huge amount of work by the British Horseracing Authority in the last few days. Undoubtedly the actions taken will ensure we are back racing as soon as possible." The BHA is "still on course to make a decision on Monday about whether the sport can resume next week," possibly as soon as Wednesday. In the meantime, it "urged caution about reading too much into the latest news," noting that results are known for only 720 swabs out of more than 2,000 received. BHA Dir of Equine Health David Sykes said, "There are many more tests to analyze. The nature of the incubation period means that a negative test now doesn’t mean that a horse has never had this flu virus." For that reason, the 174 stables under lockdown will remain as such for the time being (GUARDIAN, 2/9). The BBC reported the BHA confirmed the strain of this outbreak is the Florida Clade 1 strain, endemic to North and South America -- a "more virulent type than the Clade 2 strain that's endemic to Europe." British horses are vaccinated against both strains, "but the more powerful American flu can affect vaccinated horses." The decision to suspend all racing and place almost 200 yards in quarantine has been criticized in some quarters, with leading trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies calling it an "overreaction" (BBC, 2/9).
ALL BETS ARE OFF: REUTERS' Smout & Mason reported the horse racing shutdown is "costing the bookmaking industry tens of millions of pounds," Betfair said on Friday. It added that it "could get much worse if the outbreak is prolonged." Betfair’s Super Saturday hurdle day of racing at Newbury in southern England was canceled. While all bets are off in the racing stakes, bookmakers "have started taking wagers on how long the suspension will last." Betfair Head of Media Barry Orr said, "It’s far from ideal for us ... we sponsor all seven races." He said that he was not sure if the Newbury event would be rescheduled. Orr said, "From a bookmaking point of view, the cost is running into tens of millions of pounds. If it was a prolonged period, like we had with foot and mouth in 2001, we’d be talking hundreds of millions of pounds across the industry" (REUTERS, 2/8).