THERE’S a defining moment in George Orwell’s `Animal Farm’ when the pigs, having moved into the farmhouse against all the guiding principles of the revolution, go a step further and take to sleeping in the beds.

This, following as it does two or three earlier shifts from the original dream, troubles some of the animals and the cart-horse Clover asks Muriel – the white goat who is one of the few who are anywhere near literate – to read out the Fourth of the Seven Commandments painted on the end of the barn.

Clover remembered it as stating, simply, `no animal shall sleep in a bed’. To her surprise, however, she discovered that her memory had let her down.

The book relates: “With some difficulty Muriel spelt it out. `It says that no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,’ she announced finally.”

Orwell continues: “Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets; but as it was there on the wall, it must have done so. And Squealer (Orwell’s important character as the pigs’ spin-doctor), who happened to be passing at this moment, attended by two or three dogs, was able to put the matter in its proper perspective.

“`You do not suppose that there was ever a ruling against beds?’ he asked. `A pile of straw in a stall is a bed, properly regarded. The rule was against sheets, which are a human intervention. We have removed the sheets from the beds, and sleep between blankets. And very comfortable beds they are too, but not more comfortable than we need with all the brainwork we have to do nowadays. You would not have us too tired to carry out our duties? Surely none of you wants to see Jones back.’

“The animals reassured him on this point immediately, and no more was said about the pigs sleeping in the farmhouse beds.”

Step by step, the Seven Commandments change, and the book culminates in one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve read when the animals, alarmed by a commotion, look through the farmhouse windows at the pigs entertaining neighbouring farmers and hear that they are fed less and worked harder than others in the area, that their flag is to be torn down, and that their home has reverted to the name `Manor Farm’. Animal Farm closes: “The creatures looked from pig to man, from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Whether that closing passage can be taken as a warning against the unification of the British game I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that it’s important, in any walk of life, to ensure that original agreements are abided by and that subtle, innocuous and, often, simply inadvertent changes to wordings are highlighted.

That’s what I found myself doing on Saturday morning when I received the RFL’s press release on the proposed switch to a summer structure.

There were two or three minor phrases which will have stood out to anyone following this saga.

The release stated that the bulk of the `community game’ WILL – rather than COULD – move to a March to November season. And it also said that the new timetable is UNLIKELY to be put in place until 2012, when pledges have already been made that nothing will happen before then.

All this may seem petty, but such small details if not queried can turn out to be very important, and my concern is that few of the media outlets which received the press release will appreciate the possible implications and will merely have fielded it more or less word for word.

That is where we in the trade press come into the equation, and I’m happy to say that the RFL has responded to my request for clarification, telling me: “There has been no shift in emphasis, merely the use of a different phrase.”

So far so good then; from that reply, it appears that those who feel they may be on borrowed time can enjoy their Rugby League for two more seasons.

What should also be addressed, perhaps, is the need for the RFL to recognise BARLA’s autonomy, as set out in the constitutions of both bodies. There is a feeling, rightly or wrongly, that in directly contacting players, leagues and clubs registered with the Association, the Rugby Football League could be in breach of that agreement.

I’m also concerned at the way in which the Scholarship Scheme, launched by the RFL’s Tom O’Donovan and BARLA’s Stuart Sheard in the late 1990s, has shifted from being a excellent training vehicle in which no players, in any circumstances, were to feel that they had been signed on by the professional club involved, into a playing structure which could seriously damage existing amateur outfits and, by extension, ultimately professional clubs themselves. This seems to have developed in a way that I suspect George Orwell would readily have recognised.

Meanwhile, as I receive emails from folk within the summer structure who, while not always wanting to be named, are expressing growing concern over this whole summer business (and who often rightly criticise BARLA for its long-term lack of involvement in expanding out sport), I reflect on something else said to me by someone asking for anonymity.

“The Rugby Football League had 87 million reasons for switching to summer in the mid-nineties,” he said. “However, none of those 87 million reasons had anything to do with improved conditions for, or the welfare of, players.”

Article Courtesy of Phil Hodgson and the Rugby Leaguer & League Express

The above are the views of the author of the article

Steve Manning
BARLA Media Manager

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