The East Terrace
Right royal row over wedding
James Stafford
April 27, 2011
Welsh rugby fans will be asked to sing the English national anthem prior to matches © Getty Images

A huge row has broken out in European rugby over the decision of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Rugby Unions to pay tribute to the forthcoming Royal Wedding.

At a special press conference in London yesterday it was announced that there are plans for all UK and Irish rugby to have a special royal programme of events at games this weekend. The unions are insisting that all games honour the importance of the occasion by including speeches, patriotic songs and flag waving.

Furthermore, 50% of all gate receipts and merchandise sales in European rugby this weekend will be donated to a special Royal Wedding Fund. Only the French Rugby Federation has opted out of the arrangements although it seems they were under severe pressure to come into line.

The plans have been received with an equal mixture of pleasure and resentment within the rugby community and several member clubs of the RFU, WRU and IRFU have called for an Extraordinary General Meeting to address the matter. However, with so little time left before the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton it seems unlikely the measures will be overturned at this late stage. Instead legal action and High Court writs seem imminent.

The plans are believed to have originated among several senior members of the Home Union committees who have been serving since before the advent of professionalism in 1995. It seems they were anxious to show the game's 'traditional spirit' and their individual support for the heir to the throne.

The main features of the weekend's activities include:

* Half of all proceeds from Magners League and Heineken Cup games to go directly to a special Royal Wedding Celebration Fund.

* English National anthem to be sung prior to Newport Gwent Dragons v Cardiff Blues on Friday (as a mark of thanks for the match being given permission to go ahead on the same day as the wedding). Players expected to sing along, regardless of nationality.

* All kits in Magners and Heineken Cup to carry Union Jack embroidery (French teams excluded) for weekend. Irish teams also exempt from this but compiling would be 'huge gesture for international relations'.

* Flags and bunting to be displayed at grounds.

* Any players red carded or cited for foul play this weekend to face harsher bans than usual as sign of rugby's respect for the royal couple and the institution of the monarchy.

* All winning teams to be presented with a 'Royal Wedding Trophy' to commemorate the occasion.

Newport Gwent Dragons have lashed out at the WRU for giving away 50% of their income without consulting the region first and have threatened to not play 'God Save the Queen' as instructed. However, a spokesperson for the WRU said that as the Queen is the Patron of the WRU and Prince William is a Vice-Patron the union is morally obliged to donate to 'such a happy and momentous occasion'.

"Besides," continued the spokesperson, "I would remind the Dragons how much funding we give them throughout the year, so I hardly think a small donation on a day of such national importance is much to ask. As for complaints about playing the English anthem at Rodney Parade, many would consider Newport a part of England anyway. So it really is a fuss about nothing."

Supporters of the plan within the RFU believe the weekend can be used as a platform to reignite interest in the game from those in the Home Counties who may have 'slipped or drifted away from the game' in recent years.

"The monarchy has been a great supporter and patron of rugby union from the very early days of the sport in the nineteenth century," said RFU committee member and House of Lords member Alfred Milton. "The game may be professional now, but we must hold ourselves to the very highest standards and act with dignity and pride. The very least we can do this weekend is offer something back to those who have given us so much. This is a weekend of rugby for the people, by the people and of the people. Cry God, William and Saint George!"

The diplomatic storms in the UK are nothing to the outrage building up on the streets of Dublin, however. The IRFU face a revolt amongst their membership and supporters for their agreement to 'partially decorate' the Aviva Stadium in honour of the royal couple for this weekend's semi-final clash between Leinster and Toulouse.

The IRFU are defending their stance claiming it is good public relations ahead of the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic this coming May.

The controversy is the biggest of its kind in rugby union since 1901 when England fullback Edgar Elliot was forcibly retired by the RFU and made to work as a Buckingham Palace servant for the rest of his life as a gesture of respect from the union due to the death of Queen Victoria.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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