After watching the Chiefs vs. Crusaders Super Rugby semi-final yesterday I was left nonplussed despite the Chiefs fantastic victory. The reason for this nonchalance? The behaviour of both sets of fans throughout the game.
My rugby upbringing has been focussed primarily on respect, respect for myself, respect for my team and respect for my opposition. Unfortunately what I witnessed during the first Super Rugby semi final yesterday was anything but respect. Both sets of fans took it upon themselves to attempt to create as much noise and distraction for the opposition kicker as humanly possible.
Watching these events unfold reminded me of the infamous Nigel Owens quote “this is not soccer” as he scorned Tobias Botas for unsporting conduct. Now whilst Owens made this reference under entirely different circumstances (talking back to the ref) I feel it is still entirely relevant to the increasing issue of booing within the game.
Whilst I fully understand that rugby is a game involving two equally passionate sets of supporters and is likely to stir up rivalries, even amongst friends and families, one of the thing that sets us apart from other sports is the level of respect we show in the game. Whether it’s calling the referee ‘Sir’, pummelling your opposite number for 80 minutes and then buying him a pint after the game or showing respect to the oppositions kicker who has a tough enough job as it is, rugby is a game built on respect.
One of the reasons I completely fell out of love with the game of football (soccer) is because of the total lack of respect that now appears to be in the game. Fans boo at will, players surround the ref and bombard him with abuse worse than you would expect outside a club at 5am on a Saturday morning and players are happy to fain injury.
Unfortunately once something like booing becomes widely accepted in a game it is impossible to get rid of, and this is a real risk we are currently running in rugby. Although still in a minority of games I am beginning to notice booing occurring more often, it became particularly apparent during one or two six nations games at Murrayfield this year and seems to be creeping increasingly into Super Rugby games. The same issue was apparent in the Reds vs. Crusaders semi-final.
At the moment the powers that be still seem far too content to sit back and just allow it to happen. The problem is this begins to create a culture within the game where youngsters will see older fans booing and trying to distract kickers and will attempt to mimic this themselves. Once it creeps into the younger generations psyche then there is no going back.
And once we have allowed booing into the game what’s to stop talking back to referees or faking injury from becoming commonplace in the game. Currently the powers that be have shown strength when clamping down on such issues, just look at the recent examples of Dylan Hartley and Richard Cockerill for reference and yet sit idly by as fans continue to boo at the most crucial of times.
Now obviously it is impossible to eradicate all the noise in a packed rugby stadium but what is to stop announcements during breaks in play urging fans to reamin quiet and show respect for the opposition during penalties and conversions. Should this not work then they could look at various sanctions including fines and potentially even points deductions for teams that continue to flout the rules without and attempt to interject.
If teams started suffering either financially or in terms of points as a result of the behaviour of a few fans then it would be hard to see the teams not taking the issue more seriously. You would also see fans self-policing, actively encouraging fellow members of the crowd to remain quiet in order to avoid seeing their team suffering.
I personally would love to see the rugby authorities taking this issue more seriously and actively looking to crack down on the issue before it become too widespread within the game. But what do you think, is booing just an inevitable part of any competitive sport or should rugby look to protect its core value of respect?