Introspection must be part and parcel of any sporting or social environment. The ability to reflect and recognise trends, adjusting behaviour accordingly, must be key. Rugby, however, has failed sufficiently to condemn the actions of players whose actions bring the sport into disrepute.
A week ago, Patrick Dewhirst, a Scotland U-20 international, was placed on the sex offenders list after an appearance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Dewhirst, the court heard, filmed himself having sex with the woman at a Holiday Inn in the capital, without her being aware of it, going on to distribute the sexual images to a WhatsApp group containing 28 members of the Scotland rugby squad.
The sheriff said: “You are a rugby player who had the ability and good fortune to be selected for the Scotland U-20 team in the World Cup over in France last year.”
“On the eve of the squad’s departure you and a female ended up in your room and sexual activity took place which should have been no one’s business but yours and hers.”
“But without her knowledge or consent and while she was lying prone, you made a video of the sexual conduct on your phone and then posted it to all 28 members of the squad on WhatsApp.”
This comes after a year in which the rugby world was shook and divided by the rape trial of Ireland international Paddy Jackson. Indeed, there are echoes of the Paddy Jackson in this case.
Consensual sex took place in both instances (although this was disputed, Jackson was eventually found not-guilty of rape), but a common thread between the cases is desire to publicly embarrass and disrespect the women in question.
A banner outside the court in Belfast declared, “Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards Misogyny.” It was ultimately for misogyny, rather than rape, that Jackson and his mates were found guilty. The general public was shown their WhatsApp conversation following the night in question, with some of the messages that emerged crass, gloating and repulsive.
Group chats tend to encourage extreme ‘banter’. It is the depersonalised nature of connection online that enables people to say things they would otherwise find abhorrent. It is easy to dismiss comments made between friends as simply banter and jest, but we must recognise the role such chat has in normalising and justifying unacceptable behaviour.
A report by the National Union of Students, titled Hidden Marks, found that 1 in 7 women had experienced a severe physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. Misogyny and abuse remain a serious issue in our society, and, as a popular and public sport, rugby should be committed to making a stand.
Instead, Paddy Jackson has found himself a contract playing Premiership rugby at London Irish next season, after Perpignan’s relegation from the Top 14 last year.
It is hard to argue that the decision to condone such deplorable behaviour is the correct route for the sport to be taking. Likewise, Sevu Reece, despite pleading guilty to physically abusing his girlfriend just one year ago, is now playing for the All Blacks.
Certain issues should be more important than sporting success, surely misogynistic abuse, whether physical or verbal, is one. It may be that Patrick Dewhirst’s career is over, only time will tell, but the disgraceful thing is that is likely to be his talent, rather than his actions, that determines whether it is or not.
Both Reece and Jackson engaged in vile, condemnable behaviour, but due to their ability as rugby players they have been reconciled, free to pursue their careers again. If Dewhirst is a prodigal talent, he is likely to find a suitor. This cannot be right.
Written by Joe Ronan