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The problem with rugby


“If I was prime minister of New Zealand I would ban football and make rugby compulsory for boys and girls.” – John Campbell

Last week, Bryce Edwards devoted his weekly political roundup in the New Zealand Herald to ‘The left’s problem with rugby’. Because, apparently, it’s a thing. It must be, because according to Bryce’s piece a Stuff reader who doesn’t state any political affiliation wrote a column that questions whether our national obsession with rugby might have some downsides, so did a couple of prominent lefty bloggers, and some others treasonously suggested that winning at a sport that nobody else in the world takes particularly seriously might not actually be as great an achievement as the hype suggests… Heathens! This led to, amongst other things, a TV show asking centre left politicians what they think about rugby in a patriotism test that Senator Joe McCarthy would be proud of.

As if to underline the point, during a Facebook debate over the weekend, I was told that my slightly trolling suggestion that I was cheering for the Wallabies in the final is a disconnect that “will screw the left”! The fact that this is even a conversation is mind blowing. Ok, I’m a lefty and I don’t particularly like rugby but the left being perceived to have a problem with the game as though we all think with one mind and that this is somehow a barrier to Labour’s electibility is either ridiculous or disturbing or both.

But even more disturbing still, was the little tidbit from John Campbell quoted above that made it into the Bryce Edwards column. I have listened to the interview, and I’m sure he meant it to be tongue in cheek, but the sad fact is a lot of people think this way.

The truth is that rugby is already compulsory for all intents and purposes. In the grown-up world – because, amongst other things, if you don’t like it you are the subject of newspaper columns about how much of a wowser you and your ilk are. And at school – because Physical Education is compulsory and even if rugby wasn’t a regular part of PE (it certainly was in my day), the peer pressure of playing it at lunch time because if you don’t you are some kind of “pussy” is real.

And try being the kid who always gets bullied, who lives in constant fear of bigger kids who enjoy availing themselves of any excuse to terrorise and humiliate you, clutching a rugby ball as your tormentors hurtle towards you with a legitimate excuse to hurt you without sanction. I’ve been that kid. So John, I love your work as a general rule but stick that bright idea of yours, to legitimise that torture, where the sun don’t shine – with the greatest of respect comrade.

This is a game with a culture that, not so long ago, used corporal punishment on children who played rugby league in their school lunch times. They labelled anyone who liked league a thug and anyone who liked football gay. I can point you in the direction of plenty of people who experienced this if you don’t believe me. And do you think times have changed? They haven’t really changed that much. Here’s a comment somebody made on my Facebook page just last week:

“Oh you mean that girls game they play with a round ball. Yes that’s bigger. More people play it here apparently as well. Mostly girls. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of rolling around holding a leg like a girly man should.”

Sexism and homophobia aside, why do so many rugby fans need to be so insecure about their game? Do they think that someone like me cheering for the Wallabies could somehow affect the result? If rugby is so great and the All Blacks are so mighty, they shouldn’t need to threaten or denigrate those who either don’t love it or love other sports more. They should be able to shrug it all off as inconsequential in their march to world domination. That they can’t seem to do this is telling in itself.

Maybe I have sour grapes or something. So what if I do? So what if I’m petty or PC or a “girly man”? Maybe if I lived in Italy I would see that attitudes there are exactly the same towards anyone who doesn’t like football or support the Azzurri. So? Would that make it right? The point is I’m allowed to not like a rugby team. My not liking a rugby team doesn’t hurt you and it doesn’t hurt the team. So what’s your actual problem?

We really need to evolve as a country – away from one where what you think of rugby is almost as important, if not more important, a litmus test for your fitness for political office as your religion is in the United States of America. Because that’s when sport stops being fun.

I'm actually not a total we blanket...

I’m actually not a total wet blanket…

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

2 replies

  1. So true about being called gay if you liked football in the eighties. In those days the phrase was, “Soccer is for poofters.” I must have heard this dozens of times, but it seemed like thousands.

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