Rugby makes a drama out of a crisis

You know you are dealing with a crisis when a Cabinet Minister, the Lord Chancellor no less, describes the situation as perhaps the greatest injustice we have seen on British soil since the Bloody Assizes. Michael Gove was of course describing the controversial penalty decision by South African referee Craig Joubert in last Sunday’s Rugby World Cup ¼ Final.

For those of you who are not rugby fans, Scotland were denied victory when the referee mistakenly awarded Australia a penalty kick in the dying seconds of the game. Joubert then made matters worse by running off the pitch at a furious pace rather than, as custom dictates, shaking hands with both sets of players.

From a PR point of view World Rugby, the governing body, handled the whole affair very badly indeed. One of the golden rules of crisis communications is “don’t speculate”, but that is precisely what World Rugby did. When asked by the media to explain Joubert’s dash from the pitch World Rugby first of all suggested that maybe he had needed to answer a call of nature. A few hours later they told the media that perhaps he had sensed that the crowd was unhappy and had therefore feared for his personal safety.

World Rugby then issued an official statement which said that Joubert’s decision to award Australia the penalty had been wrong. The result of that was that the media, even some Scottish newspapers, began to sympathise with Joubert and suggested that the game’s ruling body was making him a scapegoat.

In a crisis situation I always believe that he best course of action is CARE – Concern, Action, Reassurance. It seems to me that rugby’s big wigs have failed in all three of these areas. It would also have been nice if they had had the decency to say “sorry” to those Scotland rugby fans, people like myself and Michael Gove, who have been denied the once in a generation opportunity to see our side in a World Cup semi final.

One interesting side affect of all this is that the Australians, usually insufferably smug after any sporting victory on the international stage, have been keeping an uncharacteristically low profile this week. So maybe some good has come out of this sorry affair after all.



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