For years rugby fans have prided themselves on the moral aspects of the game, and how it stands them apart from their roundball worshipping cousins. Unfortunately over the last few weeks that veil of morality has begun to slip somewhat after a series of disappointing incidents have come to light.
First of all there was the homophobic abuse directed at Nigel Owens during England’s game over New Zealand. Now this was an isolated incident in which a group of drunken idiots made comments that have been widely condemned by the wider rugby community, but is unfortunately an indication of the kind of ‘fans’ rugby is beginning to attract.
This was followed by other incidents like the booing of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw by England fans, and even more bizarrely the heckling of Welsh fly-half Rhys Priestland by his own fans. Again this wasn’t widespread throughout the crowd, although it did involve a much larger section of the crowd than the Nigel Owens incident.
The most widespread incidents during the Autumn Internationals however have occurred in Paris and Edinburgh respectively where large sections of the crowd of taken to booing the kicker at every opportunity. It seems unfortunately that this kind of behaviour is now commonplace in rugby, particularly on the international scene.
That’s not to say that it is a problem everywhere, you only have to attend a game at Thomond Park to witness the utmost respect shown to kickers as the crowd offer up an almost unsettling silence around the stadium. This is the case at many club grounds around the country, unfortunately the same can no longer be said of international games.
To a large extent this is due to the new types of ‘fans’ rugby is attracting as the game continues to grow globally, although this is not exclusively the case. The problem is that when such scenes are being broadcast globally to millions of people, it’s hard for rugby to retain it’s air of morality when scenes of booing are commonplace in the biggest internationals the game has to offer.
For years rugby fans have cited respect as one of the key things that differentiates the oval-ball sport front the one that uses a round-ball. Whilst that may still be true to a large extent out on the pitch, can the same really be said for those sat up in the stands?
Currently rugby stands as a cross-roads with the increasing pressures of professionalism pushing to attract new fans, whilst traditionalists will continue to strive for rugby to stick to its roots. Frankly though, is it not possible for rugby to manage to achieve both – a growing global profile that uses it’s traditional values to differentiate itself from other sports?
I implore each and every one of you reading this to help self-police these so-called ‘fans’ in the future. Be sure to remind the booing idiots that this is not what rugby is about, and should you come across idiots offering up homophobic, xenophobic or any other kind of slur that you politely request they refrain from any such further comments, or alternatively alert the nearest steward to their stupidity.
The games authorities must also bear some responsibility by reminding fans of what is expected of them. Should booing occur in the ground during kicks a gentle reminder over the PA system would do no harm at all. Now obviously there will be occasions for fans to legitimately vent their opinions, however during a penalty kick or conversion is not one of them.
Do you think we should be doing more to retain the traditional values of rugby?