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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 13, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

    Gallant Gallic hosts leave a lot to be desired

    Johnny Watterson

    When Christine Connolly addressed the crowd at Stade de France to confirm the bad news they had already heard from Ireland via text was perfectly true, her discomfort suggested the organisers had just pulled their pointy sticks out off camera, before prodding her to a reluctant, chilly apology.
    Yes, it was frozen. Yes, it was dangerous. Yes, it was cancelled. All that was missing was a hapless French shrug.

    That the communications manager of the Six Nations, one of the very few women in this manly, oval world, was anointed for the job seemed in itself a cowardly piece of decision making on a night where officials once again stretched fan loyalty beyond decency.

    An initial observation, was how decision makers in the game stood up straight around the pitch as fans booed and jeered Mrs Connolly, when there wasn’t a vertebra in the house.

    Not for the first time gender was used to pacify a simmering crowd, which had every right to feel that some sort of treachery was afoot. That their tickets would be respected for the return fixture was, regardless of the legal terms and agreements, a sensational sleight and misjudgement of the mood which was bubbling beyond outrage.

    Now that the 80,000 fans are not in a position to break up the stadium in St Denis, the Six Nations have decided that there are “very significant logistical issues arising from this situation,” and they would wish to be in a position to give a comprehensive clarification following a meeting on Tuesday.

    What is clear is that everyone who bought a ticket has the cash to get back to Paris, right?

    In a world where the line between sport, business and entertainment is constantly blurred, the indifference to the Irish and French fans literally freezing cold in Paris was an interesting study of nonchalant disregard.

    It was like the waiter standing beside the table in one of those wonderful French bistros shaking his head and unmoved saying ‘non, non, non’ when all you ask for is your entrecote to be well done. Well, maybe there is a cultural point to be made there but belittling detachment from the customer can be trying with two children and 80,000 people wondering when the next train will arrive.

    For the uninitiated there are no bars and bistros around Stade de France. People cannot just filter away down cobbled side streets and hunker down in a bar to wait it out.

    Thousands of euro that went into flights, hotels, food, drink will never be recovered because of indecision and lack of foresight and not once could the fans have come into the thinking. The IRFU recently found out to their cost with ticketing prices that the depth of the rugby pocket is in fact finite and when stakeholders of the game are treated with disdain there is a reaction.

    The IRFU will say nothing because these events are political and, well, it’s the French covered in merde. But they should because these fans are their support base. They deserve duty of care.

    As it stands the FFR president, Pierre Camou, pointed the finger at referee Dave Pearson. Pearson pointed the finger at the concrete pitch. French television pointed the finger at the Six Nations and the FFR. The FFR pointed the finger at God. The fans pointed their fingers at officials who felt obliged to build a stadium with no underground heating and Declan Kidney, as tradition has shown on a variety of topics, pointed his finger at nobody.

    Finally they pushed out poor Christine at whom everyone pointed a finger.

    Gallant to the last.

    • Al says:

      but if she’s the communications manager it’s hardly cowardly to ask her to do the job (i.e. communicating important info to the public) she’s paid to do

    • Howard says:

      For goodness sakes Christine Connolly is the Communications Manager of the 6 Nations ! If she is a shy wall flower then she should not have taken the job, and expecting to send a man out there because this woman is not up to it is astonishing !

      Also saying that the traveling Irish fans “They deserve duty of care” from the IRFU is a bit rich.

    • Jim says:

      cowardly to send a woman?? she is the communications manager, sounds like the best person for the job to me.

    • Karen says:

      As someone who works in Communications let me tell you it is NOT her job to go out and address the crowd. It IS her job to draft a suitable statement which should have been read by the CEO / Chairperson of the 6 Nations. The 6 Nations have a dedicated spokesperson for all other issues and this is the person who should have been announcing the cancellation.

    • Martin says:

      I was there last Saturday and it was a total farce. As for Mrs. Connolly’s announcement; I could only hear the beginning as after that it was drowned out by the booing. But I do agree it’s very cowardly of people to make a decision they know is going to be incredibly unpopular with the 80 000 people outside, and then send someone else to break the news, regardless of her position of Communications Manager, I’m sure her job description doesn’t include the cause that “occasional mass jeering may be involved” Where this article really gets it right is the attitude of French customer service, in that it doesn’t exist. Certainly not like in Ireland. With the FFR supporting a September fixture they have forgotten something because they’re too busy trying to suit themselves, and that is that every fan in that stadium was a direct paying customer, all of the people at home watching on tv were for the most part indirect customers. People pay to see the 6 nations and I find it insulting not just to Irish and French fans, but to every 6 nations fan, to suggest that the series shouldn’t be wrapped up until September so as to suit one National league.

    • Peter says:

      The Aviva Premiership and Rabo Direct Pro12 carry on without International Players – the French will have to do so as well. And if Clubs are reluctant to release their players, I’m sure there are 15 men who will be proud to represent their country.

    • Jim says:

      This article goes very easy on Pearson. He made the right decision at the wrong time. He should have done it the day before taking the forecast into account. The FFR had no say in the matter but of course they’re French so in Watterson’s book they must be to blame.

    • Eóghan Mac Giolla Chomhgaill says:

      I assume they had a discussion and her being the communications manager decided that she would do it. Considering that this is not a usual event maybe there was no protocol as to who ought to speak but it doesn’t really matter who was announcing it – the mistakes had already been made. I doubt she had any problem doing it.

    • Karl Joseph says:

      It is not fair to label all French people as poor hosts. One Parisienne Lady felt so sorry for my girlfriend and I after hearing about our wasted trip to see the match that she organised a free nightout for us at the Moulin Rouge. Add to that,the fact that we have been put up at no expense in the centre of Montmartre by another French acquaintance. Overall not a bad weekend, with or without the match, all down to our Gallic hosts.

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