You won’t find anyone who doesn’t have sympathy with the people trying to put together the fixture list for the 2021/22 United Rugby Championship.
It would be tricky enough under normal circumstances, trying to schedule in two-weeks trips to and from South Africa between the international windows and European competitions, but to do it in the middle of a pandemic that is likely to prevent UK sides from travelling to the Southern Hemisphere until at least next April, then it must be close to the impossible task.
I have my own thoughts on the fact that the state of play is essentially the same as it was leading into the hastily arranged Rainbow Cup at the end of last season, and that the current predicament was relatively predictable when looking at the speed of South Africa’s vaccine rollout and the modelled third and fourth waves of the virus there, but that’s not the schedulers fault, that’s the organisers.
Rather than get stuck into what the competition organisers should have done in hindsight though, I want to focus on the element of this current fixture debacle which I find to be most infuriating; the radio silence from the United Rugby Championship.
I’ve written a number of times over the years about the lack of respect that I’ve experienced as a supporter who, like many, many others in Cardiff, Wales, and the rest of the countries featured in the league and European competitions, spends a significant amount of time and money going to watch the on-field product.
The target of my ire has been Cardiff, the Welsh Rugby Union, and European Professional Club Rugby at different points, but the message remains the same: supporters are the lifeblood of professional rugby.
Of course there’s no game without players, coaches and referees, but the last 12 months or so has underlined that the income we generate and the atmosphere we create are critical to funding professional rugby union and creating a product that is both exciting and can be used to generate further revenue.
Yet here we are, some 37 days before the United Rugby Championship is due to get underway, and there has been zero official communication from the league regarding the fixtures. No announcement of them, no anticipated date of release, no acknowledgement that supporters are being kept waiting, no explanation behind the delay. Nothing at all.
It’s an insult, quite frankly, that we are taken for granted in such a manner, and to add salt to that wound you even have the URC Official Twitter account doing 50-day countdowns and telling us the new season “is in touching distance”.
Now this may seem like a gripe just for the sake of it, but the consequences of such a poor communications effort and a dismissive attitude of supporters is that they will simply not be able, or want, to support anymore.
Some will want to go to games but will be unable to due to now not being able to take time off work or book transport or hotels, others will have made commitments to other events, sporting or otherwise, and some will simply turn their back on the competition altogether.
In Cardiff, for example, would you rather a Cardiff City season ticket which offers 23 home games all announced up until next May and where they have started the campaign unbeaten in three games, or a Cardiff Rugby season ticket that offers 11 home games that are not confirmed even for 37 days time? If you like football and rugby but only want or are able to attend one then it’s a no brainer.
It’s not the fact that fixtures haven’t been produced that annoys me the most, it’s the fact that the URC, which must see the tweets and Facebook comments directed their way, remain tight-lipped on the current situation.
An explanation of the current problems, an update on how the fixture list is taking shape, a rough date when we can expect the fixtures, even an update on when we might expect an update. Anything to give the impression that somebody at the United Rugby Championship is listening and cares will do.
Until then it remains a complete embarrassment for the league.