“Bloodgate” Analysis – “And he who sheds his blood with me shall be… banned?”

For those of you who don’t know the case, last year in a Heineken Cup quarterfinal match between London’s Harlequins and Leinster (based in Ireland) – the ‘Quins were down 6-5 as the game was coming to a close when winger Tom Williams was struck down with an “injury” where he was bleeding from the mouth. As a result of the injury Harlequins was able to bring back in kicking stud Nick Evans, who it was hoped would be able to slot any late potential penalty kick to win the game.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  People get hurt all of the time on the rugby pitch, my two fragged knees, jacked up neck and concussions are a testament to that.

The only problem was, Williams faked the injury, biting down on a fake blood capsule in order to bring Evans back onto the field.  Williams was then rushed off of the field and taken into the locker room to be examined by the team’s doctor, who should have been able to recognize a fake injury.  But instead of reporting the fake injury, the team’s doctor, Wendy Chapman, “under pressure from the team and player” decided to cut his lip, making it appear that the injury was legitimate. The scandal was later dubbed “Bloodgate.”

Only after the scheme started to fall apart, facilitated by Williams’ admission of the scheme (to reduce his ban), did the truth finally escape. Harlequins was fined a serious amount of bank, Williams’ ban was reduced from one year to 4 months, Harlequin rugby director (and former rugby legend) Dean Richards was banned from coaching rugby ANYWHERE for three years, chairman Charles Jillings resigned, and team physiotherapist Steph Brennan was banned for two years.

Then there’s team doctor, and lip cutter, Wendy Chapman. She’s been in front of a disciplinary committee to determine what happens to her future.

I need to get this out of my system before I explode. “Dr. Strangelove” doesn’t deserve to lose her medical license, or her ability to practice medicine in some way, shape or form. But there is no way in hell she should ever work an athletic event again.  She was hopeful to get a spot working in the 2012 Olympics in London, and I’m sure there’s a chance she’ll get in because people want to forget that this little lip-cutting event happened.

Her defense is essentially “but, but, but I was under SO much pressure from the player and the club to cut his lip and make this injury look legitimate that I didn’t know what to do.” Bullshit. You know something, you’re a sports doctor – you need to know what’s right and what’s not right, and you need to have enough of a spine to stand up and say “no.”

In my mind this is worse than Bakkies Botha going “WWE” on the All Blacks a few games back, because that happened on the field and while you need to be able to control yourself on the pitch, sometimes these things do happen – and Botha paid the penalty for his actions.  But what Chapman did was a violation of the trust she had as a medical professional.  She’s essentially forfeited her privilege to work on a pitch’s sideline. She needs to spend a little time working for a hospital or a school in the country, taking care of people who can really benefit from her expertise. Maybe after a little voluntary self-exile then she’ll gain some perspective.

It’s not just her.

Don’t get me wrong, the entire Heineken Cup structure is just as guilty.  As Williams was being carted off of the field the team doctor for their opponents was demanding to see the player, since he thought this was a fake injury, designed to bring another player into the game (which, surprise, it turned out to be). Harlequins did everything in its power to bar the doctor from examining Williams. At that point, had the ‘Quins won the game the Heineken Cup governing body should have stopped the game to investigate if Williams had been truly injured or not, and why another doctor was not allowed to examine the player.

I dunno, maybe it’ll be necessary for all medical personnel to be provided to teams by a central body, making sure doctors don’t get cozy with teams.  Perhaps the competition should take care of organizing doctors, letting the teams pay them for doctors then paying the doctors from those payments.


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