The East Terrace
IRB to introduce 'honesty' policy
James Stafford
October 9, 2009
Referee Jonathan Kaplan brandished a red card for Tonga's Hale T-Pole, Tonga v Samoa, Rugby World Cup, Stade de le Mosson, Marseille, September 16, 2007
The IRB's new 'honesty policy' could cut costs © Getty Images

In an effort to quell the rising controversy of inconsistent and often lenient sentences handed out in recent years to players found guilty of violent conduct, the IRB has proposed a new 'honesty' system to try and address the problem.

The new proposals would simply involve the IRB, or relevant union, emailing the accused player a video file of their alleged offence and asking them to view it before emailing it back with their verdict and punishment, if any.

"We need to empower players," said IRB spokesman Peter Williams. "When people are given responsibilities for their actions you often find that they behave far more respectably and with greater dignity than when they are held to account by someone else. The IRB feels that players would, if given these proposed powers, take them very seriously. After all, if they didn't given themselves an appropriate ban they would only be cheating themselves."

At present rugby's disciplinary system varies from country to country and competition to competition. The Magners League, for example, despite being a competition involving three countries, allows players accused of foul player to appear in front of a panel from their own national union. So if, for example, a Welsh player gets a red card he appears in front of the Welsh Rugby Union. Some people feel that this process often leads to bias in the sentencing of offenders.

Williams believes that the new system would not actually be that different from the current system in place in the Magners League, "We are already allowing people to try their own, so why not take it one step further? As well as helping to empower players, it would also result in a dramatic cut in administration costs and logistics. Do you have any idea how much it costs to organise these committees? How much we spend on appointing lawyers, booking conference rooms and on travel costs? Our new system would cut out all of this."

Rugby's public image has been seriously tarnished of late and dramatic steps are needed to restore the sport's once proud reputation for fair play.

Recent high profile examples of violent conduct going relatively unpunished include South Africa's Schalk Burger getting just eight weeks for making contact with the eyes - an offence that once could have resulted in a ban of several years - and Tom Williams of Harlequins getting just four months for using blood capsules to get around replacement laws in a European Cup semi-final.

The latest controversial ruling to hit the headlines was the outcome of the IRFU hearing into the red card incident involving Irish prop John Hayes. Hayes was given his marching orders in the recent Leinster v Munster Magners League match for opening up the head of an opposing player with his boot after several stamps.

The Irish disciplinary committee decided that the offence "constituted a high-end entry level in terms of sanctions". According to the IRB recommended sanctions, the minimum recommended guideline for such an offence is nine weeks. However, the Munster man got a ban lasting just six weeks which finishes on Saturday, November 14. In a huge coincidence, Ireland have a match on Sunday, November 15 against Australia, a match he will now be free to play in.

"It seems," said Williams, "That the IRFU may have, possibly, just possibly, been influenced by the Irish fixture list in their sentencing of Hayes. This is unacceptable. We strongly feel that if Hayes were to have been asked to sentence himself it would have led to a more honest verdict. As Shakespeare said: 'Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honour, I lose myself.' Munster are famed for their honesty and integrity and if a man such as Hayes were given the responsibility of considering his actions I've no doubt we would get a fairer outcome in the sentencing process. After all, with great power comes great responsibility."

The IRB plan to put forward the proposals to their constitutional committee in the next few weeks. Other details in the recommendations include:

  • Accused players to be made to promise to 'be really honest with themselves' when considering sentencing
  • Follow up emails to be sent by the IRB if player seems to be taking too long to pass self-sentencing
  • Really strong follow up emails to be sent of player takes a very long time
  • Players asked to not be influenced by upcoming matches or tournaments they would like to appear in when passing sentencing on themselves
  • IRB to issue all players with motivational posters stating: "The man who cannot endure to have his errors and shortcomings brought to the surface and made known, but tries to hide them, is unfit to walk the highway of truth."
  • Players reminded to try not to be violent in the first place

James Stafford is editor of The East Terrace ( - an offside view of life in the rugby world

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