Are ‘rugby values’ truly superior to those of other sports? Not according to Rugby analyst Robbie Owen (or Squidge Rugby, as preferably known).
According to Owen, rugby often pats itself on the back for actions that “other sports can do without needing a round of applause”. Some fans may not like it, but he is right. It’s time we stop using rugby values to pretend we are somehow superior. However, it should still be preserved in rugby as a benchmark to aim for.
Is Squidge Rugby’s Criticisms Correct?
Squidge Rugby’s criticisms hit some home truths.
Owen suggested that we should continue to love rugby, but get off our high horse. Perhaps his most scathing criticism was the following:
“(Our sport pretends) it is a pack that welcomes all yet follows a long history of racism with continued homophobia, everlasting classism, and recently became a world leader in transphobia”.
The video showed the alarming statistic that 69 percent of UK amateur players have heard homophobic slurs in rugby within the last two weeks. Then there’s the recall of Shannon Frizzell to the All Blacks, just two weeks after being found guilty of assaulting a woman. He also noted the continued use of “Swing Low” chants in England despite multiple players of color expressing discomfort over its origins.
Individual examples in Squidge’s video can be debated. But rugby fans do have a snobby superiority complex about ‘rugby values’. JOE went to an England vs Ireland international and simply asked “Can rugby learn anything from football?” The condescending scoffs accompanied by “Not really. It’s the other round” was quite nauseating. The self-righteous disregard for the question is sadly quite typical in our sport.
Rugby can learn from football…
Obnoxiously pretending we are better than other sports only prevents us from solving our own problems. For starters, the University Rugby drinking culture. Stories from socials have included freshers having vomit thrown on them, and dressing up as the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, these are the most extreme examples, but the ‘lad culture’ of university rugby has turned many away from the sport. And, contrary to the chortles of some fairly snobby fans, rugby does have things to learn from football.
Football has done an incredible job at being a sport for people of all classes and backgrounds, helping the sport be an effective vehicle for changing people’s lives. Just look at Bayern Munich’s Sadio Mané. The Senegal international went from torn boots and shorts growing up in Senegal to building a school and hospital in his childhood village.
There are stories like this in rugby too, such as World Cup-winning captain Soya Kolisi. However, there is no denying that football has reached far more people from tough backgrounds. To pretend rugby has nothing to learn from other sports is the epitome of arrogance. Taking inspiration from other sports is an essential tool for improving our own community.
An honorable aim
While Squidge Rugby hit some valid points, it would be wrong to totally disregard the concept of ‘rugby values’. They may not make us angels, but they at least provide us with something to aspire to. Squidge may be correct that “not swearing at the referee” should just be common decency, but the reality is this cannot be assumed.
Last season, the Football Association in England had to issue 380 bans at the grassroots level for attacks on referees. This isn’t helped by incidents at the highest level. Grassroots referees were ‘dumbstruck’ at Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp not receiving a ban for screaming at an official during his side’s loss to Manchester City.
Our sport is at risk of going in a similar direction. Just look at Rassie Erasmus’ recent tweets mocking referee decisions after the Springbok’s defeat against France. The World Cup winner has valid points about refereeing inconsistencies, but this was not the way to respond. How many kids will take note, and resort to abusing referees online? It makes Erasmus’ two-game ban more than justified.
Enshrining ‘rugby values’ is important to try and give society, especially children, the best possible example. And it has to be preserved systemically, including at the highest level. It’s not just for the treatment of referees either; it can also apply to ideas such as comradery with the opposition. These things may seem self-evident, but with modern challenges like professionalism and social media, we can’t assume they will always be.
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What place in the future for Rugby Values?
Perhaps it seems contradictory to agree with Squidge rugby, and yet sing the praises of ‘rugby values.’ But there is a crucial distinction between loving the smell of our own farts, and maintaining the best lessons sport can provide. We should never use rugby values as a cloak for our own problems and lessons. But it can be a code to humble ourselves – and be the best community we can be for future generations.
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