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When Rugby Turned Pro

Sue MacGregor reunites key figures from the moment amateurism in Rugby Union gave way to a professional game, including former players and the administrators running the game.

Sue MacGregor reunites key figures from the moment amateurism in Rugby Union gave way to a professional game.

Rugby Union was the last of the world’s most popular team sports to go professional. By 1995, when other sports saw players being paid six-figure sums annually, Rugby Union players were still officially playing for free.

As Rugby Union grew, maintaining amateur regulations from the 19th century across numerous different associations worldwide became increasingly difficult. Hypocrisies and double standards were a frequent occurrence.

In the summer of 1995, the second Rugby Union World Cup was held in South Africa. It was one of the most politically poignant sporting tournaments ever. The hosts were playing in their first tournament following their post-apartheid re-entry into the sporting community.

Over two billion people around the world watched that World Cup and the colossal event attracted the interest of both broadcasters and sponsors, who offered to invest substantial sums into the sport. Growing pressure, from inside and out, became too much for those who wanted to maintain the amateur regulations and on 27th August 1995 the global administrators of Rugby Union agreed to it becoming a professional game.

Joining Sue MacGregor to look back on the battle to change Rugby Union’s status are former England player Brian Moore, Welsh international John Devereux, Australia captain Michael Lynagh, the former Secretary of the English Rugby Football Union Tony Hallett, and the Daily Telegraph’s Rugby Union Correspondent Mick Cleary.

Producer: Steve Hankey
Series Producer: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

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42 minutes

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