Sunday 26 March 2017

Neil Francis: Soft targets are much easier to tackle

If World Rugby are so upset by name-calling, they have to punish a hell of a lot of people

England's Joe Marler, who has been suspended for two matches and fined £20,000 - to be paid to charity - following a misconduct hearing over his
England's Joe Marler, who has been suspended for two matches and fined £20,000 - to be paid to charity - following a misconduct hearing over his "gypsy boy" slur against Wales forward Samson Lee, World Rugby has announced. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I?" he said.

I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"

He said, "Like what?"

I said, "Well, are you religious or atheist?"

He said, "Religious."

I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Muslim?"

"Christian!"

"Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

"Protestant!"

"Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"

He said, "Baptist!"

"Wow! Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!"

I said, "Great Me too! Are you Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!"

I said, "Die, heretic scum". And I pushed him off the bridge.

- Emo Philips

This one is about Samson Lee and Joe Marler . . . eventually. How many degrees of separation? Ethnic or religious diversity? First some context and perspective.

Back in May 2014 Jeremy Clarkson ­- whom I admire - got himself into a pickle with his infamous 'eenie, meenie, miney, moe' out-takes. There were three out-takes and Clarkson, after self-editing the 'N' word out of the rhyme, didn't do a good enough job on the third one and the offending word was heard through the mumble.

These out-takes 'inadvertently' found their way into the public domain and Clarkson was castigated. Hung, drawn and quartered by social media. Trial by Twitter went on for weeks. 'Clarkson the Racist.' 'Death to Clarkson.'

At precisely the same time in Central Africa genocide was being visited on the newest African republic of South Sudan. The inter-ethnic conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes had claimed well over 300,000 victims. A million people were displaced and 400,000 refugees fled the country forever. Much like the slaughter in Rwanda, most of the victims - men, women and children - were either hacked to death, beheaded or burnt alive. Most in the West could not easily understand why two communities that lived side by side could inflict such ghastly crimes on each other when to the rest of us any difference between the two tribes was imperceptible.

Imagine a Dinka mob out for murder with their machetes and they find an eight-year-old Nuer girl collecting wood on the outskirts of a village. She would be just old enough to understand and comprehend the horror about to be brought upon her. The Dinka boys, well they have a dilemma. Do they just hack her to death or do they rape her and then hack her to death? Hmmm. Eenie, meenie, miney, moe catch a Nuer by the toe, if she squeals . . .

Maybe the analogy is a bit gruesome, but it is also reality in places like South Sudan. What counts for racial hatred - real racism - and what the West perceives as racism are two completely different things. I am just not sure who inhabits the sicker society. Here in the West a fundamental re-appraisal of what racial hatred really means is required. Nobody who joined in on the Clarkson debate either knew or cared what these people in Africa were doing to each other. Fully fledged genocide or the 'N' word. Yeah, death to Clarkson.

We will get to the Joe Marler-Samson Lee saga shortly but I think it is important to look at the world of sport: many people on this planet have a misapprehension about what sport is about.

We hear about racism in all its forms and its worst forms of bigotry, prejudice, sectarianism and discrimination looking for ethnic differentiation. From pre-history to medieval times to current times ethnic conflict has been a constant. The quest for racial superiority has normally been settled by conquest and subjugation.

It is my view that sport is the purest form of racism. It, no less than war, defines us as humans. The battle to be superior to our neighbouring tribe has been a constant in human history.

Now spears, bows, arrows and guns have been replaced by a ball and the battle takes place between teams on a football pitch. We can no longer kill each other but we get as close as we possibly can. Rivalry between tribes is healthy. It defines us. These constant sporting battles between nations and tribes energises sport the world over.

Ireland versus England.

Australia versus New Zealand.

India versus Pakistan.

Japan versus Korea.

Spain versus Portugal.

USA versus USSR.

Celtic versus Rangers.

Real Madrid versus Barcelona.

It is almost unnatural not to take an interest when your tribe are playing the people across the border. This intense rivalry is the cornerstone of sport. Sport is nothing without bite. Sport is nothing if there is nothing at stake, it has to mean something. It is why, quite often when we play within our own tribe, it loses something. We want to conquer our opponents. The chase and the hunt to be the top dog. This rivalry is pure, incorruptible.

It is and always should be a contest for supremacy on the sports field between a race, a tribe, a county, a province, a region or a country. Nothing else should dilute that.

I watched bits of El Clasico last week and watched the Champions League when Barcelona played Atletico at the Nou Camp. The sliding advertising hoarding kept flashing up in all languages 'say no racism'. It is hard to take this seriously in this arena when all around was pervasive with the stench of human and racial hatred. All of those teams who played last week co-habit on the Iberian Peninsula but what happened in the Spanish Civil War and before still exists. The Catalonians and Madrilenos hate each other. The flags, the chants, the lead-up, the aggression on the pitch and the hostility between fans and players. This is a mock battle. The pageantry barely conceals the rancour. If you ever needed to see if racial hatred manifests itself in sport, go to any of these type of matches.

This brings us to the worst excesses of racial hatred in sport, eh, name calling. Two stood out in my international career. In the middle of a Five Nations game, after a succession of collapsed scrums, one of the opposition front-row players lost it and, directing his anger at me, screamed "You f***ing, f***ing Micks. You cheating f***ing Paddies." Decades later my psychiatrist tells me he hopes that I may in time recover from this appalling oppression. I am not sure though.

In a match in Namibia I ended up having a dust-up with the opposition No 8 who happened to be black. Both of us landed punches and there was claret streaming from both our noses as we held each other by the collar. "Don't f**k with me white boy." I almost stopped to check to see if it was true. Yes indeed I was a white boy. As we were pulled apart he shouted "F***ing Kaffir." I didn't know how to react to that one. Referee Clive Norling called us aside and pointed to me, "Any more and no World Cup for you boyo." My friend wouldn't be going to RWC 91 but I would. A red card or suspension would rule me out. Every lineout, every scrum for the last 35 minutes, "Kaffir," "Kaffir," "Kaffir," looking for the fight to start again. This apocryphal notion that we shake hands after the match and have a beer afterwards . . . well that didn't happen here.

The rest of the tour I was called "Kaffir." If you're asking me, the punch in the face hurt, sticks and stones and all that.

The Marler-Lee story has almost been done to death here . . . almost. 'Death to Marler.' 'Marler is a despicable racist.' I have to say I have sympathy with Marler. By all accounts a good fella, intelligent and articulate irrespective of how inarticulate he was on the pitch at Twickenham. The Mohawk hairstyles, the zany dyed hair, the metal piercings and the tattoos are symptomatic of something. There was dysfunction in his upbringing and there is an edge to his personality. He dislikes and distrusts the media and in moments like this his dislike and distrust is reciprocated many times.

Marler did not take the public schoolboy route to claim his place in England's starting XV. He is, in the truest sense of the word, a maverick and so when Samson Lee starts it all and calls him a "posh English c**t" you would wonder is that the best that Lee could come up with to get him going. It's like a five-year-old learning to curse for the first time. "You big old smelly sausage poo-bag."

Marler is anything but a "posh English c**t" and the riposte cost him £20,000 and a two-game suspension under article smarticle 20-10. The invertebrates in World Rugby have set a precedent, any insult of any kind that has even a remotely racist overtone will have to incur a £20,000 fine and at least a two-game suspension. Interesting, so, that James Haskell went on the record during last week to say, "but go and ask what Samson Lee's nickname in the squad is - ask that and come back." The insinuation here is that Lee's nickname within the Welsh squad is 'gypsy boy'.

Twenty grand fines and a two-game suspension for the Welsh squad. Maybe more for Rob Evans, who is apparently one of Lee's best mates and a Scarlets front-row colleague. In an interview a week before the England game Evans was quoted thus. "I remember playing against him (Lee) when I was 11. All the boys were talking about Samson Lee, this gypsy. The only thing I remember really from the game was the smell - he smells better now."

Do World Rugby give Rob Evans a £40,000 fine and a four-week suspension or just the standard £20,000 fine and the normal two weeks?

Eenie, meenie, miney, moe . . .

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