The game's caretakers in New Zealand need to grow up, get in a room and sort this out for rugby's sake
I was invited onto a show the other day, to talk about violence and vile behaviour in club sport.
The catalyst had been a recent Swindale Shield club rugby match between Marist St Pats and Old Boys University, that degenerated into an all-in brawl that was alleged to have involved spectators as well.
This wasn’t some nothing game between two nothing teams. This is the Wellington premier men’s competition and this was a clash between two historic clubs, whose feeder schools have a long and occasionally explosive rivalry as well.
Who said what to whom is a matter of conjecture, but the root problem two Saturdays ago at Wellington College was the repeated exchange of unpleasantries between both sets of fans.
The bow then drawn in some quarters – and the reason for the first line of this column – was that behaviour at club sport has never been so bad and something drastic needs to be done about it.
Now, whether you believe that to be the case or not, anyone who’s been on the sidelines at community sport will know that the behaviour could be better. No matter what the code or gender or age group, chances are you’ve attended a match where you were appalled or aggravated by the antics of someone associated with the opposition.
Occasionally it will be someone from the team you’re involved with, which tends to make things doubly embarrassing.
It was hard not to think of that MSP and OBU game as the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) and New Zealand Rugby (NZR) went back and forth in recent days.
What chance do club teams have of getting along, when the game’s leadership are trading insults too?
I don’t know about you, but I’m bored of this debate about private equity funding. I don’t care if it’s Silver Lake or you and me or some giant broadcast network that buys a stake in NZR.
I’ve lost interest in which side’s right and who truly has the game’s best interests at heart.
All I know is that the NZRPA – as has always been their want – continue to leak information to discredit and destabilise NZR and continue to set up interviews with potentially persuasive ex-players.
In recent days it was Conrad Smith and Richie McCaw who were put up for media duties and you assume others of their ilk are being lined up to speak too.
Smith said at one point in his interview that he was glad for this public dialogue, that people needed to know the NZRPA’s and NZR’s position on things and should welcome the chance for informed debate.
I doubt that very much. In fact I doubt that many rugby fans have read a word about this stuff. I’d argue that most have no idea what Silver Lake stands to buy off NZR or what the Forsyth Barr proposal was about.
People in New Zealand love to talk about rugby. Whether it’s in clubrooms or on sidelines or in pubs or on back decks or in kitchens, you’ll hear lots of talk about games people have played or watched and the people they’ve met and had a beer with.
What you’re less likely to hear fans chatting about is private equity and image rights and debt consolidation; mostly because people don’t know anything about them and don’t care to find out.
So there’s a couple of things here.
First, if we are to have opposing sets of fans get on every Saturday. at club grounds across the country, then it wouldn’t hurt for the game’s leaders to keep things civil too.
We can’t condemn the usually fine folk from OBU and MSP if the NZRPA and NZR are at each other’s throats as well.
And, secondly, just get on with it. Get in a room, like grown ups, and come to a compromise. Don’t play things out in public and continually pit one group against the other.
If you care about the game, then do what’s right for it. Leaks and insults really aren’t that helpful.
People love rugby for the skill, athleticism and power of the athletes. They love it for the rivalries and the controversies. They love it because it’s a release from the stresses and strains and mundanity of real life.
What they don’t love it for is for the sight of comparatively wealthy people arguing in public about money.
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