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No surprise that in the 'sports business', the second word is emphasised

There is a case for saying that the quest of women's rugby to be taken seriously took a major step forward with New Zealand's exit from the World Cup last weekend.

DRAWING THE TACKLE: Emily Scarrett is challenged by Magali Harvey of Canada during their controversially tied IRB Women's Rugby World Cup match. Picture: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Not because of the increased competitiveness that has been demonstrated, you understand, but because of the suspicion generated about the way their departure from the tournament they have dominated was brought about.

When my old pal Lewis explained the mechanisms involved in the pub last Saturday night my first reaction had been to raise an eyebrow.

In a tournament that had one of those pool systems that rugby union seems to specialise in, prioritising the potential for drama over fairness - see the Heineken Cup - a surprise defeat by Ireland left the team that is known as the Black Ferns dependent on being the best pool runners-up if they were to make the semi-finals.

Draws remain relatively unusual in rugby union, yet the best way of ensuring their elimination was if the two best teams in another of the pools were to draw their meeting with one another and win their other pool matches.

It was when I gathered that England, beaten by the Black Ferns in each of the three previous World Cup finals, had subsequently drawn with Canada that I reacted as I did, then thought no more about it.

Until, that is, I turned on talkSPORT on Monday morning to hear presenter Colin Murray and regular guest Perry Groves, whose chat is largely devoted to football, interrupted by the odd reference to the biggest sporting events of the day along with some oddities they have picked up, discussing the ins and outs of the England-Canada match.

They had acquired sufficient detail to establish that England, whose goalkicker is probably the best in the tournament, had turned down a late shot at goal that would have put them ahead in favour of running the ball.

That, they pointed out, had the added dual advantage of ensuring that they maintained possession and kept play at the Canadian end of the field, thereby minimising any risk of suffering a shock defeat themselves.

Any accusation - if it existed - was left implicit as they broadened their discussion out into the matter of what the Americans call "tanking", whereby teams set out to lose individual matches in order to gain advantage in terms of the overall tournament.

What was being discussed was essentially no different from the match-fixing scandals of players being rewarded for throwing matches, or performing specific acts during them in order to gain reward.

However, the snippet of programme I heard essentially boiled down to Murray, as the chirpy sporting enthusiast, proclaiming his view that every team should give its all to win every match then see what the outcome is, while Groves, the hardened former professional footballer, argued the case for ensuring the best possible outcome for the chances of the individual or team involved to win the overall tournament.

Their conversation was essentially light-hearted with Murray citing an example that Groves could not get his head around, which had resulted in one international football team once having to defend both goals simultaneously while the other sought to score in both.

In among the hilarity, though, what stuck in the craw was the difference in tone between praise from Groves - an Englishman - for how England's women had worked out the best outcome for themselves, and the unanimity of the condemnation I recall being heaped upon Asian badminton players at the London Olympics - they were subsequently banned from their sport - for trying to lose a pool match in order to gain what seemed a preferable draw in the knockout stages.

Such situations may call into question the integrity of sport but they are an inevitable consequence of the professionalisation of a sporting world in which a specified monetary value is now being placed upon medals won at the Olympics and even, utterly ridiculously, the Commonwealth Games, where one diving event had only four competing pairs.

I have, lately, found myself explaining why, with the income of clubs, managers, players and, worst of all, sports governing bodies dependent on tournament outcomes, a player who is prepared to perform cynical acts in order to bring about the required result, no matter what, is invariably likely to be selected ahead of another who, even if more talented, is not prepared to do what the boss thinks is required.

Through whatever means victory is ultimately achieved, in the 'sports business' the emphasis goes on the second word.

What seems beyond dispute, then, is that, merely by coming under suspicion, women's rugby has now reached the stage of being taken sufficiently seriously that its prizes are considered worthy enough of winning that some might manipulate the system to do so.

Whether that is good for their particular sport is another matter but, distasteful as it may be, that is the sporting world we live in.

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