Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Best of Six Nations

The UK’s resident party of Government is synonymous with two themes.  
One is its advocacy of free markets to ensure economic growth and wealth; the other is its espousal of One Nation as a means to foster community cohesion.

It was the occurrence of the final round of matches in this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament, of all things, which prompted me to consider the wisdom of these two pillars of socio-economic philosophy.  
The prospect of Ireland playing England in London on Saint Patrick’s Day so whetted patriotic instincts that the possibility of attending the showdown in Twickenham stadium was an imperative that had to be considered.

Unlike in England whose media expect their sporting teams to win everything, the task of taking Europe’s premier rugby competition and beating all comers has almost always eluded Ireland.   
That is apart from the year before my birth and on one other occasion.  This once in my lifetime feat occurred as recently as 2009. It had taken 61 years of trying.  On that occasion, I managed to get a ticket at the very last minute in Cardiff after a day and a half of shameless begging on the city’s streets.  

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This social media post from a Worcester Warriors fan three weeks before England played Ireland says it all
In the penultimate round of matches this month a week before our encounter with England, Ireland had done enough to win the Six Nations tournament regardless of the final day’s results. 
The bigger prize, the Holy Grail, was to achieve a clean sweep - a grand slam - defeating all five other countries.

The rarity value for us of such an achievement heightens anticipation significantly.   
And having been in the shrine of Welsh rugby on the one available opportunity nine years ago, symmetry was compelling me to attend the London showdown.

I began attempts to find tickets by contacting friends in Britain about five days before the game.  
As I waited impatiently for replies, a newspaper article[i] reported a predictable sequence.  This is the inevitable consequence of demand outstripping supply, resulting in a black market for tickets. 
The article quoted England’s Rugby Football Union as urging people not to buy tickets on offer at well above face value.  Free market economics takes full rein, I thought, in spite of RFU words.

According to the article, “the RFU...is doing everything in its power to curtail unofficial sales... as well as internet sites such as Viagogo, eBay, Seatwave and GetMeIn.”  
I wondered what sanctions or other authoritative actions they might be taking, if any.  
The newspaper gave an example of tickets priced at £3750 on a site called Stubhub. 

Despite warnings of this kind from the sport’s governing bodies, buyers might feel confused and perplexed.   These sales outlets are legally constituted companies and seem to be tolerated by the regulatory authorities.   
They are witness to the untrammelled working of the free market.

Six days before the game, I had discovered that I could fly over and back for about £80. Not extortionate and an argument in favour of travelling.   
Exasperated by the lack of progress from approaches to various friends and contacts, I decided to think about examining the ticket sales websites myself.  This was against my better judgement but out of curiosity.  
Eventually, four days before match-day I succumbed to have a sneak peep at the ticketing websites.  

The first one I examined was e-Bay.  
It showed two tickets with a face value of £124 each.  Quite expensive, but probably worth it in the circumstances.  Their resale and somewhat inflated asking price, however, was for a total of £2400 (“free postage” included, presumably to lessen the severity of the knock-out blow).  
In response to the site’s invitation to make an offer, I posted a bid of £300.  An instant reply declined the offer with an invitation to make another offer.

Rather than react instantaneously, I sat down with a cup of tea and read some chapters of a crime fiction thriller novel in an attempt to think rationally and to restore my faith in human nature.  
I also wanted to avoid giving the impression of being very ready to yield easily to a seller’s greed.

Before going back onto eBay, I looked at GetMeIn website which advertised tickets from £605.  However, when I clicked on the actual purchase price, it displayed a figure of £988.  Worse still, when I proceeded to the check-out stage, the total price for two £988 tickets (with the addition of unspecified fees) became £2326.94. 

Disappointing can be used as a polite word to express masterly understatement.  
I know well, however, that free market advocates will defend the exploitation of supply and demand by arguing that that is how market forces (and apparently Government) work. 

Ninety minutes after having an initial offer rejected on eBay, I increased my bid from £300 to £500 for the two £124 tickets.  At almost four times their face value, this constitutes a generous bid by that yardstick.  
In a message aimed squarely at the seller’s social conscience, I wrote in a helpful textbox that I am classified as elderly living on a pension.  
For extra pathos, I added that I am recovering from hip and pelvic injuries sustained in a hit and run road accident.

Almost before I had pressed send, another instant rejection message came back.  It slapped me in the face with such alacrity that I slumped in shock, stunned.  
It would have been impossible for the seller to have read and considered my circumstances. The reply did, with magnanimous fairness, invite me to make a third and final offer.  

Despite being urged to bid again, I did wonder if there is any point in dealing with a mercenary seller even if his feedback rating is perfect with, somehow, a 100% positive rating.  This is further empirical evidence of the free market’s truthful working.

The one other site I examined was called StubHub as it offered tickets at £875. 
Going through the same process, the total for a pair worked out, not as £875 x 2, but rather as £2126.25.   
Hardened in attitude against this free market, and forewarned by the advice from the toothless RFU, I declined this further opportunity to deal with extortion.   
Meanwhile flight prices remained dynamic but reasonably constant, with minor daily variations.

Despite the signal failure to repeat doing my patriotic duty, this is a story with a happy ending, as everybody knows.   Our team achieved the clean sweep; national pride, civic pride, rural pride, gay pride - every pride you can think of - all were restored.  
I was left wondering if it is too much to suggest that this sporting occasion might be a metaphor for how things could be.  Is it fanciful to think that elected representatives could learn from the sporting model? 

All of this coincides with the uncertainty of a time when seemingly irreconcilable differences deprive Northern Ireland of regional governance for well over a year.    
And it’s also a time when questions continue over Westminster’s policy to implement the popular campaign-winning, if oxymoronic, pledge to take back control of its borders which it wants to be invisible. 

In numbers, the rugby grand slam victors in 2018 are the one of the Six Nations teams which accumulated the most points (26), an island (quoting its anthem) of “four proud Provinces” partitioned into two constitutionally distinctive jurisdictions.   
And despite adversity, such as years of disappointment and underachieving in the quest for success, it has succeeded as One Nation on the field of international play.

Best of the 6 Nations
This is not a romantic idyll to be dismissed lightly.   
The publicity and boost for our image internationally goes a long way to counteract pictures of division and recidivism.   Success has come off a modus operandi which has been developed patiently over time.  
This method is based on solid principles of life and on standards for diplomatic behaviour. 

These include developing a specific strategy for each encounter, moving forward from past failures and building on progress, adoption of a positive and can-do mind-set in the interests of the greater good, co-operative working across seamless borders without friction, players united in taking risks calculated to achieve a big objective and, crucially, employing creative leadership which inspires.

On the eve of the St Patrick’s Day fixture, this very example of sport providing a role model bringing people together was eloquently envisaged by “Northern Ireland’s daily newspaper.”[ii]    
Happily on this occasion, our team delivered[iii].  
Don’t say there are no parallels or lessons to be learned.

©Michael McSorley 2018

[i] Belfast Telegraph 13 March 2018 page 3 Ian Begley:  https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/rugby/six-nations/tickets-for-irelands-grand-slam-bid-on-sale-for-4k-36698954.html
[ii] Belfast Telegraph 16 March 2018 p 12 Martin O’Brien:   https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/tomorrow-ireland-will-come-together-as-never-before-for-st-patricks-day-and-the-rugby-wouldnt-it-just-be-great-if-it-was-like-this-all-the-time-36710160.html