THE INHERENT DANGERS OF PLAYING SPORT
From time to time over the years we on the Rust have reported upon developments in the world of rugby union, often with a decidedly English slant.
I refer here to matters relating to the England national team, the administration of the game generally in England by the RFU and, of course the elite professional English Premiership club league competition.
Many if not all sports have to contend – and sometimes juggle – with a complicated mixture of sometimes conflicting and/or contradictory factors, interests and influences which inevitably tend to result in a series of imperfect but necessary compromises merely “to keep the show on the road”.
Rugby union – which prides itself as being amongst this select group – is not alone in constantly having to seek a balance between the day-to-day interest of businesses in the professional version of its game, the wider potential benefits of seeking to broaden its global appeal and (simultaneously) – in such a heavily-physical contact sport – the growing health and safety issues, not least the potentially traumatic effects of both individual collisions and the cumulative long-term effects upon the bodies – and particularly the brains – of those who are attracted to participate in it.
The unfortunate truth is that, for all their many positive attributes – including the sheer thrill of full-tilt physical contact for their players, the team spirit upon which they crucially depend and the general camaraderie they generate – as with American football before them, both codes of rugby football face a serious public relations problem in attracting youngsters (and gaining the approval of their parents in allowing them to take part) – and then keeping older players in the sport – when there are so many former players at all levels of the game now coming forward with evidence of having suffered serious early dementia and/or other collision-related brain conditions.
Along with boxing and other physical contacts sports/games, on one level both rugby codes have a fundamental and existential issue.
No amount of safety and/or preventative measures enshrined in their playing laws – nor any “consent” to the dangers either freely given or implied, nor any presence of paramedics, doctors or specialists at the side of the pitch, nor of nutritionists, physiotherapists, conditioners or analytical statisticians amongst their “back room” staff – can arguably ever remove or absolve the ultimate “responsibility” of their coaches, managers, club owners and national boards – all of whom do what they do because of their love of their particular sport/game – for encouraging and empowering their charges to go into the ring (or out onto the playing pitch) and there to confront the clearly potentially life-changing consequences of taking part in what was only ever originally intended to be one of a great range of sporting supposedly life-enhancing pastimes.
To make my point, here is a link to a report upon the latest developments on the topic “concussion” in the game of rugby union that appears today upon the website of the – DAILY MAIL
A COMMENT UPON THE CURRENT RUGBY PREMIERSHIP SEASON’S GAMES THUS FAR
Regular Rusters interested in sport will be aware to some extent or another of the progress of this season’s Premiership thanks to the contributions of our columnists who follow rugby union generally and/or who support a particular team – Harlequins being a case in point.
For all the financial and business woes besetting England’s elite professional clubs – not least Worcester Warriors and the now Coventry-based Wasps, both seemingly hovering near administration and/or rejection from the competition – there is no doubt that, in its play, the Premiership is currently enjoying a purple patch of creative and exciting entertainment.
Not being a particular rugby afficionado myself, whilst I can appreciate the attributes that have given the Harlequins their enviable reputation as a team that “likes to throw the ball about a bit”, I am not an obsessive worshiper at their altar. Although I regard their mercurial fly half Marcus Smith as an outstanding talent, for example, I have never regarded him as the Messiah.
A couple of weeks ago an old friend of mine – as it happens a former London Irish supporter now living in the West Country who has transplanted his affections to his local team the Exeter Chiefs – in commenting upon a ding-dong battle between Chiefs and Quins eventually won by the former, said “If it’s any consolation, Quins are most people’s second favourite team” (this because of the entertainment that they bring, win or lose).
Right now, even at this early stage of the season, I can see certain ironies in this statement.
For one thing, whilst the Harlequins do indeed entertain, their big weakness would appear to be in defence. It’s a fine thing, on the surface, to be full of creativity and verve but not exactly worth the whole hill of beans when your defence keeps leaking penalties and tries – as Quins’ did again last weekend against Northampton Saints at the Stoop, almost to the point of losing the game in the final minutes.
For another – and this may surprise the rugby purists among our readers – based on the evidence of the Premiership games to date this term, for me the team to watch above all others is now the historically easy-to-hate, and much-maligned, Saracens.
Normally known for their dour, relentless, efficiency and their kicking-dominant, pressure-defence game, they have opened their account this season with a series of all-action, attack-from-anywhere, performances that have entertained just as much as Quins, if indeed not outshone them.
Just saying …