- By Touchline
88 years ago, Wellington’s Evening Post wrote (in response to increasing “rough play” in the game of Rugby Union), “a belief that the way of the game is such that you must use intimidation or violence in order to win is demoralising on the field and off; the belief is as dangerous as the actuality; give the belief a long enough start, and it will become the practice, at any rate in winning circles.”
On Tuesday, a headline in the successor newspaper to Wellington’s former evening journal reported that a “Wellington club rugby player [has been] charged with wounding [an] opponent with [the] intent to cause grievous bodily harm”. Under New Zealand’s “Bill of Rights Act 1990”, any person charged with a crime has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Like all readers of this article, Touchline respects “Oliver’s Rights” and has no comment on this particular charge, or the circumstances from which it arose. However, of deep concern to Touchline (and presumably to many followers and friends of the game of Rugby Union in Te Whanganui a Tara) is the simple fact that the charge has been laid, with the associated publicity (and public concern) that this inevitably creates as to the “state of the game”.
The charge (under section 188 of the Crimes Act) of “wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm”, is not a minor one. Regardless of the outcome of the accusation now before the Hutt Valley District Court, there is now an urgent need for Rugby Union’s administrators in the Capital to restore the confidence of those (such as Touchline) who prefer to see the game as a “celebration of community spirit”, rather than as a potential “arena of violent confrontation”, with the risk of severe physical impairment. At a time when the number of teenagers playing the game continues to fall, parents may well question whether or not the culture of a game which sees senior players engaged in violence resulting in criminal charges, is the best way for their children to learn the values of teamwork, camaraderie and community.
What seems to have become clouded in recent times, is the vision that Rugby Union is “just a game” which our local Clubs have the responsibility of fostering regardless of success or failure on-field, through which they build stronger communities off-field. While some readers may consider that Touchline has an old-fashioned view of the world, perhaps when anyone approaches a game with the idea of “winning at all costs” (regardless of the welfare of their opponents), it is time that they gave it up.
In 1933, New Zealand’s rugby community recognised that the belief that physical intimidation or violence to win was unacceptable, warning that the more that this belief remained unchallenged, the greater the likelihood that it would eventuate. Today, Touchline sends a message of concern on behalf of all Rugby Union followers in Wellington to our Clubs and to the Union that the lessons learned in the past, appear to lack resonance in the present day. There is a need for change in how we see the game, how we play the game and for what purpose. If not, the current “belief” evidenced by recent headlines that Rugby Union is a violent, anti-social game will likely lead to an “actuality” of an increased decline in participation, with the risk that the game itself becomes permanently impaired.