Professionalism has changed rugby: Argentina's Porta

by Pirate IRWIN

London (AFP) - Argentina great Hugo Porta says rugby's Corinthian spirit has taken a hit in the professional era and believes it is vital the sport holds on to its unique identity.

The 66-year-old former Pumas fly-half, capped 58 times for Argentina, said the gruelling international schedule makes it difficult for players from opposing teams to bond and that the game lacks the conviviality of previous decades.

Porta, who opted for rugby instead of football, said players do not have time to absorb the culture or immerse themselves in the countries they visit.

"I think one of the best things that rugby gave me when I was playing was the opportunity of touring countries as a youngster," said Porta, who played for just one club, Banco Nacion, for his 24-year career.

"Nowadays the teams are playing one weekend in Japan then the next in London and the next one in Buenos Aires. They don't get to know the people they are playing against or their culture."

Porta, who is an architect by profession, told AFP about his enduring friendship with South African great Morne du Plessis.

"I played my first game against the Springboks when he played 40 years ago and now our families are friends and I have friends everywhere thanks to my touring days.

"I think that is one of the things that rugby is losing, its conviviality and spirit."

Porta said he understands that World Rugby cannot treat every country the same and has to respect the culture of every nation but he added that the sport must preserve its identity.

Former Waratahs flanker Omar Hassanein, now the chief executive of the International Rugby Players' Association, admits the game has changed.

"Professionalism means we can't always have as many beers as we want and we need to respect that," he said.

"That is where organisations like the Barbarians, who were kind of losing their role in the game, bring back that romanticism around the game and the reason why we all laced on boots aged seven years old."

But Hassanein believes the character of those playing the game has not changed, nor have the principles underpinning the sport.

"The fabric remains the same, we are all still the same type of people," said the 41-year-old. "I played in Japan for a number of years, which is a very diverse culture, but the rugby thread is very similar in the manner in which we interact with each other.

"There is an incredible amount of respect for each other and that will always remain consistent.

"There is a special bond and attitude. Our sport is always first and in all of our players I believe there is a common understanding you represent the sport and not just yourself."