Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Uruguay and their fixation with amateurism

Uruguay are fixated on telling the world about how amateur they are, often evenexaggerating. But the Teros clinging to that amateurism as a badge of pride is what will prevent any significant progression in the future.

Back in October 2003, Georgia in their first World Cup tournament were facing off with Uruguay in what was to be their last until this year.

The Uruguayans trumped the Georgians winning clearly 24-12 at the Sydney Football Stadium and sent the Lelos home winless. 12 years on things have changed a lot between the two sides.

Georgia are now World Cup regulars who eased to qualification unbeaten. They can now not only be confident of expecting routine qualification for the tournament in the foreseeable future, but also competing and winning games at the tournament.

Uruguay meanwhile having returned to the tournament after 12 years following their 36-27 win over Russia last October are extremely unlikely to record a third World Cup victory or get particularly close to one. That would be the same as 5th seeds in any pool, not just with their unfortunate draw at this year’s tournament. They are simply just happy to have qualified.

Uruguay fly half Felipe
Berchesi in Carcassonne
colours. While other nations
would celebrate their pros
playing abroad, Uruguay's
narrative has been to pretend
they don't exist and instead
make themselves out as
the 'only amateur team at
the Rugby World Cup'
Since that game in 2003 one side has clearly gone forwards, the other clearly hasn’t. There may be numerous reasons for each sides’ differing fortunes. But one aspect is both nations’ ambition where there is a clear contrast.

The Uruguayans have been utterly fixated with talking up and boasting about their amateur credentials, to the extent that they have exaggerated it. They’ve become the self-proclaimed ‘only amateur team of the World Cup’.

This week coach Pablo Lemoine talked to the UK press about being ‘100% amateur’. Forgetting of course they have four professional players in France (including a Top 14 winner who recently retired).

It’s also worth noting that something you won’t often hear mentioned from Uruguayan officials in interviews is how the URU has reportedly actually paid players a salary this year, so they can focus more on rugby and play a long series of warm up games.

Meanwhile newspaper articles have promoted their amateurism, and one says ‘the vision of the Uruguayan team is that we want the amateur world to be proud of us’.

Uruguay are holding up amateurism as a badge of honour and pride. And that's why in a nutshell they’ve barely made significant progression since 2003. Their vision is amateurism.

Rugby in Uruguay is predominantly played within a group of conservative traditionalist upper class section of society. Professionalism isn’t seen as a good thing, whilst amateurism seen to be as holding up traditional values and spirit of the sport etc.

That’s all well and good, but the reality is that to progress and compete beyond just being happy to have qualified, then professionalism is a necessity.

Uruguay are not moving forward anywhere as long as they are still wearing their amateur badges. It’s a very similar situation with a nation like Portugal as well. Another nation stuck as proudly amateur, and one where a writer who merely suggested methods of raising the level of the ENC was met with a negative response.

Meanwhile, Georgia are the complete opposite of those who feel professionalism is not to their taste.

Far from trying to hide the fact they have professional players in France as Uruguay are doing. They’re proud of what their players have achieved abroad. Georgian newspapers run weekly updates on how their players have done for their clubs.

Young players are encouraged to become the best they can be, perform in the best leagues in Europe, and be rewarded with the recognition and earnings that go with it. Essentially, they are a creature of the professional age, not one looking back at amateurism with rose tinted glasses.

There’s a fundamental difference in attitude and ambition between the two nations. And that's one of the reasons as to why they've been on separate trajectories over the past 12 years.

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