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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK

The death of amateurism

Australia: Kept the southern hemisphere fire burning in 1991

BBC News Online looks back at the troublesome birth of the Rugby World Cup - a tournament that changed the face of the sporting world.

Rugby wasn't always like this.

Twelve years ago the World Cup began as a "pilot" tournament in the face of scepticism and hostility from the home unions, which fought hard against its introduction.

The sport was then still amateur and the World Cup was primarily introduced as a vehicle of modernisation, to exploit the commercial opportunities which opened up for rugby union in the 1980's.

[ image: Wales secured third place in 1987 - before slipping down the international ladder once again]
Wales secured third place in 1987 - before slipping down the international ladder once again
The competing teams were all invited to participate, though all but the two southern hemisphere nations - South Africa were excluded because of the apartheid policies of the government - regarded the competition as little more than a summer jaunt.

Although few back home realised it - so sparse was the media coverage - in no time it could be seen that the inaugural event had galvanised international rugby.

Things could never be the same again.

Despite Wales reaching the semi-finals, the four home nations treated the competition like a good old amateur summer holiday tour - and the English did so in particular.

Twickenham thought the World Cup would rape the game of its amateur purities and ravage its cosy old-boy network. They were right.

There is no question that the World Cup was the single largest reason the game turned professional, and it was only after the 1987 World Cup that Twickenham agreed to have its telephone number taken off the ex-directory list and publicly listed.

Starting out

Despite the misgivings of the home unions, it became instantly clear the tournament was long overdue.

The opening round of matches during the inaugural 1987 competition produced a pulsating contest between Australia and England and a wonderful 20-20 draw between Scotland and France - while Wales finished third, defeating Australia in the place play-off with a last minute conversion.

It had been a landmark. Before the 1987 World Cup, separate visits by the four home unions to the south were rare. The World Cup changed that rationale and England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all played more internationals in the south between 1987 and 1998 than they had in the 106 years before the first World Cup.

The success of the inaugural competition was evident for all to see. Nevertheless, the British unions remained staunchly amateur. The World Cup had seemingly taught them nothing.

No going back

The same cannot be said of the southern hemisphere nations. After the event, the first serious rumblings about the future of amateurism were heard. After all, how could a sport which was attracting so much money, not pay those providing the entertainment?

It was a question asked more searchingly after 1991.

If 1987 had been one of the game's seminal moments, a point of no return, the second World Cup was the staging post to professionalism.

[ image: Will Carling: One of the players who laid the foundations for professionalism]
Will Carling: One of the players who laid the foundations for professionalism
British players such as Will Carling, Rob Andrew and Brian Moore had a marketability which mocked their amateur status.

Through the years ways had been found of bending the regulations, but after 1991 a world-wide campaign was launched to make the game more open and honest.

By the time of the third World Cup in 1995, held in South Africa - who were competing in the tournament for the first time after the lifting of sporting sanctions - amateurism was all but over.

The day before the final South Africa and New Zealand, the three major southern hemisphere unions announced they had signed a multi-million-pound 10-year deal with Rupert Murdoch's television group for the rights to every international in their countries and the Super 12 competition.

It marked the end of the amateur era and set the tone for a new professional game.

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