I’m not a huge fan of rugby. I’ve really tried my best to like it over the years but it’s not for me. Brute force overrides skill and way too much of the game involve kicking the ball long. I might try and tune in for the occasional game where Wales or New Zealand play as at least they try to run with the ball, but most matches bore me.
I have plenty of friends who do love it though and I’ve always appreciated that it’s meant to be a “gentleman’s sport” with fair play and integrity as important as the result. As a football fan, I remember being dumbstruck when the Welsh players accepted a terrible decision by the referee, with good grace, in their final game of the 2007 Six Nations that resulted in them losing to Italy and getting the tournament’s wooden spoon. The respect they had for the opposition, referee and rugby as a whole was hugely admirable and not something you see in many other professional sporting arenas.
I’m sure there any many more similar examples of fair play, but rugby’s reputation has taken a monumental hit this week with the footage showing Joe Marler calling his Welsh counterpart, Samson Lee, a “gypsy boy” whilst squaring up to him (see video below). Even more damaging in my opinion is the decision from Six Nations organisers deciding that no punishment was necessary for such behaviour.
Joe Marler calling Samson Lee “Gypsy Boy”. Players like him do English rugby no favours. pic.twitter.com/qCrNnloPNw
— Punters Lounge Rugby (@PLRugbyTips) March 13, 2016
The Six Nations statement, according to the BBC, says they are “aware of the seriousness of Mr Marler’s comment and does not in anyway condone what was said” but accepted it was said “in the heat of the moment”.
They accept racist aggression in the heat of the moment? Apparently because Marler had apologised to Lee on the pitch and because he “deeply regrets it” there should be no punishment.
Perhaps he does deeply regret it and Lee says he’s accepted his apology but once again this leaves us in a situation where sport bends the rules for it’s stars. A precedent has now been set; you can get away with racism if it is “in the heat of the moment” and if you apologise afterwards. Surely pretty much every moment on a rugby pitch is full of heat?
What does this do for the image of rugby and sport in general? What does it teach young people who would have seen and heard the altercation on TV and then watch as there is no consequence of such actions? What can parents and coaches say when they see this potentially repeated on rugby pitches across the country this weekend?
The statement also said that the Six Nations “does not in anyway condone what was said”. However, once again, a sporting authority had made clear that words and actions rarely match up when it comes to open discrimination. The authorities have given out the impression that they’re living in a bygone age and the irony is that after taking five days to reach a decision they can’t even blame it on being taken in the heat of the moment.
What a sad state this leaves us all in.
Update: 9pm, 17th March
I can barely believe this but the England coach, Eddie Jones, has said the Welsh Rugby Union have complained about the lack of punishment to try and disrupt England’s match against France. “They are happy to do anything to upset us in the preparation for the Grand Slam,” he said. Stamping out racism from the top?