The ERC are taking disciplinary action against Newcastle Falcons and Bourgoin over their respective parts in an Amlin Challenge Cup game in January not being played due to the state of the pitch.
Now, it should be said at the start that if there has been a breach of the regulations, then fair enough; it has to be addressed. But I can't help wondering if this is the best way to go about it.
I've spoken before about using arbitration in rugby discipline, based on the lessons from other sports (the GAA). This time, I want to look at using another type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), mediation, based on sailing.
Sailing has its own disciplinary system to enforce its rules. Sometimes, if there are on-the-water judges, it's like having a referee; if not, it's done by protest hearings, much like a case being decided before a tribunal. But it has also developed its own system of mediation of protests, of which these Australian links should give a flavour (although strictly speaking, this is closer to a form of concilation than mediation)
Right-of-way disputes would be much like the the playing Laws in rugby; was there a knock-on, was a tackle dangerous, etc. If not dealt with there and then, they have to be dealt with afterwards, by a protest hearing or a citing commissioner.
But the Newcastle/Bourgoin disputes are ones that strike me as being eminently suitable to mediation. After all, both teams would want the game played, as do the ERC; the issue now is resolving the dispute to the satisfaction of all. Sailing deals with these disputes by mediating them, instead of full disciplinary hearings (with the delays and inevitable entrenchment of positions that come with them); and issues that can be sorted out this way will be sorted out this way, with less delay and trouble.
Rugby could do a lot worse than doing similar for these, or indeed other disputes like that between the ERC and the Ospreys over tickets last season. Mediation is not only faster, but it has a very, very high success rate, and in particular preserves relationships between the parties - which, when it comes down to it, is what the IRB talks about in the bit in the Laws about the spirit of the game.
Of course, even better would be if the problem were mediated at the time to prevent it ever becoming a problem - for all concerned, teams, ERC, broadcasters, fans, everyone.
So, a modest proposal; the ERC should consider, very seriously indeed, keeping a panel of mediators available on call at various HEC or Amlin Challenge Cup venues who can, if called on, step in to mediate off-the-pitch issues between teams. It can't hurt, and if it saves just one game a season, or prevents one disciplinary stoush, it would pay for itself.