I suspect that most men, and certainly me, would love to have had a career playing professional sports. And failing that, then a career as a top sports journalist off covering the Masters one day and Wimbledon the next seems a pretty attractive alternative. That thought crossed my mind this week in conjunction with rugby union.
But don’t worry. This is no midlife crisis where I proceed to give you my take on why the All Blacks were extremely lucky to beat France on the weekend (though they were), or why the referee seemed to me to give every debatable call to the Kiwis to an extent that may have influenced the final outcome (though I think that too). No, this article is about political correctness and the intense annoyance I felt this week on learning that even rugby union has fallen victim to the worst sort of PC nonsense.
Before I let rip, let me tell you that my family and I lived for 11 years in Dunedin, New Zealand and that all of us support the All Blacks, and none more so than my 18 year old son who is in every other way now a dyed in the wool Aussie. At times I feel that rugby is the last remaining aspect of life in New Zealand that is whole-heartedly committed to excellence and to the importance of vigorous competition. Certainly there is much more to be said in favour of the All Blacks and how they approach rugby than there is to be said in favour of current New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his approach to fixing New Zealand’s woeful productivity and budget deficits and still nowhere near even half constrained government spending.
But getting back to the rugby, here’s what bugs me no end. I learned this week that the International Rugby Board, the IRB, fined France $5,000. What for, you ask yourself. For the grievous sin of breaching a ‘cultural ritual protocol’. You see during the pregame programme, when the All Blacks were performing the haka – and who doesn’t love watching the haka? – the French team joined hands and walked forward towards the New Zealand team. Apparently they got too close, possibly showing disrespect. And so they needed to be fined by the IRB.
This is just self-indulgent, unthinking idiocy, if I might be allowed to understate how I actually feel. Let me get this straight. One team can perform what amounts to a war dance, often performing a version that finishes with all the performers symbolically threatening to slit the other side’s throats – though this is politely downplayed or glossed over – and the other team simply has to stand and watch this. They can’t walk away to the end of the field in bored indifference (perhaps in line with Canadian cultural norms). They can’t wander off the field for a last minute hit of pesto juice (Italian ones). They can’t turn around and moon them (Australian ones). They can’t rain down predator drone attacks (hmm, not a French attribute). Heck, they can’t even join hands and walk ever closer towards them as a sort of reverse intimidation threat. (And I know that this rule was originally devised to stop the All Blacks moving ever closer to the opposition, but that doesn’t make this dumb fine any more defensible that I can see.)
So ask yourself why the French team was fined? Is there something extra-special about Polynesian culture? Is it because it’s not a western cultural practice, and so attracts the sort of support that inner-city chardonnay drinkers can only give to cultures other than their own? And why is a sporting supervisory board such as the IRB involving itself in this sort of PC oversight? Personally, all they’ve done is make themselves a laughing stock, or more of a laughing stock. Worse, if anything is likely to lead to the haka being outlawed, it is this sort of decision. (I love watching the haka but if other teams have to be forced to watch on in silent and bogus and Orwellian forced attention, then I would support outlawing the haka. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, if the IRB allows commentators still to use maxims that distinguish between the sexes.)
I suppose all you can say in defence of this $5,000 fine was that it was denominated in New Zealand dollars, and so even for those who earn euros it is a fair bit less than it looks – assuming that the French pay up before they become part of the southern half of a two-tiered euro.