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Dealing with violence in rugby


Changing the way rugby deals with extreme acts of violence

Rugby is a dynamic game. When athletes in top condition are running, jumping, tackling and throwing themselves into rucks, it’s inevitable that there are going to be injuries. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a professional player in this day and age who hasn’t been forced to spend a considerable amount of time on the side-line due to injury.

Yes, when you sign up to play a sport like rugby, you have to accept that sometimes you are going to get hurt – hopefully not seriously, but sometimes that’s unavoidable too.

When you sign up to play rugby, however, you do not sign up to have your safety unduly put at risk due to some players not just breaching the rules of the game, but also, frankly, breaking the law.

After spending only one minute on the field of play, Connacht prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy was recently sent off in a match against Leinster for what can only be described as an act of extreme foul play. With barely ten minutes remaining in the match, Robertson-McCoy stomped on the head of Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier – an act which would surely have done considerable damage if van der Flier hadn’t been wearing a scrum cap.

Whilst retaliation is never a defence when it comes to getting violent on the rugby field, there are sometimes mitigating circumstances than can partially explain some brain explosions. In Robertson-McCoy’s case, however, there was no provocation except for Robertson-McCoy’s foot being held onto for a second too long. Van der Flier was lying prone on the floor when his head was stomped on, with no way to defend himself.

The fact that he was not seriously injured is a miracle, but the events that have followed the sending off are quite the opposite.

Cited and facing the disciplinary panel, Robertson-McCoy was quick to admit his guilt – something which apparently influenced the panel’s final decision to decrease the ban administered from the 12-week entry-point down to a mere six weeks.

Let’s unpack this decision, shall we?

First and foremost, the fact that Robertson-McCoy owned up to his mistake should have had zero impact on the ban dished out. Professional rugby is played in front of audiences of tens of thousands of people – most of whom have access to countless video angles and replays of every event that takes place on the field. A quick search online turns up multiple videos of the stomp, making it plain and obvious to everyone that Robertson-McCoy was guilty.

Although it’s pretty clear from his actions that he may not have his head screwed on quite right, Robertson-McCoy was never going to show up for his hearing and claim that he wasn’t guilty – there was absolutely zero evidence that could possibly have found him innocent. The fact that his admission was enough to half his ban is absolutely ludicrous – why is the entry-point for the foul play that Robertson-McCoy was guilty of 12 weeks if, as is likely to be the case in 90% of scenarios, the average ban served is going to be significantly less than that due to most players admitting their guilt?

Further, we’ve reached a point we’re remorse is now being used as a justification for decreasing the length of a ban – but surely if a player does not show remorse then the ban should simply be extended indefinitely until remorse is present? If a player stomps on another’s head for no justifiable reason and then shows no remorse then is that not indicative that they will continue to commit the same offence?

That on its own should be enough to hand out an indefinite ban, but for whatever reason bans are actually being reduced when a player admits they’ve made a mistake, instead of that being the minimum requirement for not handing out more severe punishments.

Even worse, the entry-point for a ban seems to be based on the fact that a player has previously committed offences in the past. If a player has had zero run-is with the judicial jury in the past then their “previous good behaviour” apparently impacts the severity of the law breach that they have committed.

Again, previous convictions should increase the ban being handed out – if the entry-point for a ban is 12 weeks then past bad behaviour should see the player unable to play for a lengthier period of time.

Focussing on Robertson-McCoy again, the fact that he will be back on the field in six weeks is an insult to the game. Players expect that they’re going to be hit hard when playing, and sometimes tempers will flare on the field – but no one should have to deal with their head being intentionally stomped on by a 120kg man wearing studded boots.

To be perfectly honest, in circumstances like these where an act takes place that is so far outside the laws of the game, punishments should be handed out by higher powers than rugby disciplinary committees. If you were approached by a man in the street who attacked you  unprovoked, you would hope that he was served a very hefty fine and sentenced to some time behind bars. For whatever reason, atrocities committed on the rugby field are viewed differently – even though those atrocities are being broadcast to thousands of people around the world, including children.

Like it or not, professional rugby players are role-models. Their behaviour is going to influence the many people that tune in to watch them play every week and the last thing we need is for these role-models to escape proper sanctioning when they commit foul play.

Not a month goes by where discussions don’t take place regarding how recklessness on the rugby field should be punished – it seems like the lawmakers are constantly debating how challenging for the ball in the air should be treated. Yet for some unidentifiable reason, we’re choosing not to properly deal with acts of extreme violence – something which unquestionably needs to be eliminated from the game.

In other news:

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Changing the way rugby deals with extreme acts of violence