Wednesday 28 September 2016

Save us, and rugby, from idiot academics

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

Shoulder to shoulder: Donncha O’Callaghan (left), Peter Stringer, and Paul O’Connell sing ahead of a 2007 match
Shoulder to shoulder: Donncha O’Callaghan (left), Peter Stringer, and Paul O’Connell sing ahead of a 2007 match
Visit: Give President Michael D Higgins the US visit.

We love a good moral panic and no panic is better than one which comes wrapped in the snug, smug righteous blanket of child safety.

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When you can then tie that moral panic into having a pop at male elitism, you have what our American friends call a twofer.

The recent letter signed by 70 supposed 'experts' and academics which called for a ban on tackling for any juvenile rugby player is a classic of its kind.

According to such luminaries as Eric Anderson - who basks in the warm glow of being "professor of sport, masculinities and sexualities" at the University of Winchester - tackling is as bad as being in a car crash and, therefore, the obvious thing to do is to ban tackling altogether - at least until they are 18.

The sheer jaw-dropping stupidity and ignorance of such a claim is a joy to behold.

For starters, if you don't let kids tackle until they're 18, you better start building more emergency wards because the number of 18 and 19-year-olds splitting each other open as they desperately try to execute something they have never tried before would simply go through the roof.

Similarly, the idea that rugby should be organised according to weight, rather than age, shows a blinding lack of understanding of the sport.

After all, rugby is arguably the only team sport where you could have players of such disparate size as Donncha O'Callaghan, Peter Stringer and Paul O'Connell on the same side. The whole point of the game is that there is a place on the team for everybody - the titches play scrum half, the tubbies and bean poles get to play in the pack and the fancy Dan who doesn't want to get his hair messed up gets to play out half.

The stench of cynical bandwagoneering from these 'experts' is impossible to ignore. After all, while we may be more exercised about injuries since the recent high-profile concussions suffered by Jonny Sexton, there has been long-standing unease among those who love the game about the direction it is taking. Simply put, when you have professional rugby players who are 6ft 3in, can run 100 yards in 13 seconds and weigh 15 stone crashing into each other at full pelt, injuries are going to be a major, possibly game-ruining, factor.

But somehow suggesting, as these academics have done, that we replace tackling with tag rugby shows a complete lack of understanding - the crunching tackle is a crucial part of the game and the problem lies with inadequate coaching, rather than turning the game into a round of tip chasing.

But what is disturbing about the campaign is the presence of people like Anderson as a signatory. This charmer came to brief prominence last year when he appeared on television to discuss his love for having sex with 16 and 17-year-olds.

It should be stressed, of course, that there is nothing illegal in such behaviour, and the morality of a man in his 40s having sex with people who are barely legal is his own business.

But it would take a heart of stone not to laugh bitterly at the idea of man who openly joked on TV about being a 'sexual predator' of teenagers then trying to ban tackling because it places those very teenagers "at risk".

Surely the greater risk to kids that age is this middle-aged weirdo, who is a purveyor of nonsense in his day job and a self-confessed sexual predator at night.

This is classic example of the weird moral inversion currently crippling our culture, where obvious wrong doing is ignored in the name of tolerance and people are afraid to call someone out on their disgusting, predatory behaviour which, if nothing else, is surely a sign that this is a man who should not be listened to, or treated with respect, on anything. Ever. Inevitably, Anderson claims any criticism of his behaviour is homophobic, which is insulting to gay men who would never dream of engaging a 16-year-old for sex. We wouldn't listen to a straight man who enjoys sex with 16-year-old girls, why should he be any different?

The war on comedy is freedom of speech satire

One of the most irritating interviews I've ever conducted was with Roy 'Chubby' Brown.

A blue comedian of the old school, he's the Bernard Manning of anatomy-gags, a form of humour which involves bodily functions and knob gags.

It's really, really tedious and looking at him on stage is like watching a giant child with Tourette's Syndrome.

During the interview, he railed against what he sees a conspiracy waged against him by "middle class, university educated, snobs" (I'm neither, but that point seemed lost on him) and kept emphasising his working-class audience, as if the entire working class consists of oiks who think the word "fanny" is comedy gold.

But as much as I may dislike him, the news on Thursday that a council in England banned him from performing in one of their venues is the latest example of the war on comedy.

Brown is already effectively exiled from mainstream TV, even though his DVDs sell in the hundreds of thousands, but when the council said that he was "unacceptable", what they really meant was that they despise his audience.

We laugh now at how The Life Of Brian was banned in so many places but when it's someone as puerile as Chubby Brown, people aren't so bothered.

Unfortunately, not every free speech issue is as clear cut as Charlie Hebdo and nobody will walk around with 'Je Suis Chubby' badges.

But if we start banning or excluding comedians for the crime of being obsessed with lady parts and being both vulgar and shit, then Brendan O'Carroll would never have got his big break.

OK, maybe that's a bad example...



In the mass confusion caused by the recent election, Irish politics has gone into a weird form of phoney war.

But it was interesting to note that one of the first pressing issues of the day was the debate about whether Enda Kenny would get to go to the White House for the traditional pat on the head from the US President.

As things stand - which is simply journo code for admitting that things could have changed between me writing this and you reading it - it looks like Inda will still be heading off on the most coveted junket of them all.

But why don't we turn this dilemma into an opportunity to change things for the better?

I have my own quibbles with Michael D Higgins, but would it not make more sense for the President of Ireland to meet the President of the United States?

After all, the Yanks think that Irish senators are more important than TDs, so Christ knows what they make of the role of Taoiseach.

Of course, the politicians will say that there is important diplomatic work done on this trip, but it's not done during the annual photo call in the Rose Garden.

That meeting is a purely ceremonial one, and the role of president in this country is also just ceremonial.

Give the trip to Higgins.

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