Rugby Union 3 years ago

The Power of a Sorry

  • The Power of a Sorry

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about two events which reminded everyone how far rugby has to go in terms of dealing with homophobia.

But, in a turn-up which warms my cynical little heart a smidge, in spite of armchair critics saying it was all part of rugby - officials in the form of SANZAR and the Wales Police said it wasn't. And even more heartwarming was how both dramas have played out.

Jacques Potgieter was fined $20,000, with half suspended, for calling one of the Brumbies a faggot, twice. (Aside: does anyone know where that money goes to? because 10k would make a hell of a difference to some LGBT youth charities I could name.)

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As well as the fine, Potgieter was issued an invite by the Sydney Convicts - NSW's gay and inclusive rugby club, who recently played in a curtain raiser for the 'Tahs - to come join them one night at training.
And fair play to Potgieter, he went. He fronted up to people his slurs had affected, said sorry, and played some footy with them.
And you know what? The fact he did that, makes me feel better.

I might be a banner waving member of the PC brigade, but I really don't think that the way to deal with homophobia in rugby is tarring and feathering perpetrators.

Using those kinds of slurs to degrade your opponents comes from ignorance - ignorance of the actual people they're used to target, and possibly also ignorance of the many better put-downs which don't cause verbal collateral damage. The way to beat ignorance is learning, not pillory.

The same goes for the 18 year old who sent homophobic tweets to referee Nigel Owens. Because hate speech - even over the internet - is illegal in the UK, there was a possibility of prosecution.

As everyone who's ever been an 18 year old boy, and probably everyone who's ever had to deal with one, can attest - they do some astoundingly stupid things sometimes. Legal adults they may be, but adult decision-making skills aren't quite there yet.

So rather than prosecute, Owens chose to meet the young man, hear his apology, and shake his hand. While I'm sure some stern words were involved in the exchange, Owens accepted the apology, and both parties are moving on.

What really makes me hopeful that rugby is taking its first tentative steps on the path to eliminating homophobia was the openness which both these incidents were dealt with. the behaviour was openly declared not okay, and restitution was seen to be done - not just as a slap in the wallet, but as facing up to real people.

Slurs may be 'just words', but no one can deny words have power. Fortunately a truly sincere "sorry" is just as powerful a word as any.


ETA: I'm not touching what was said by a player in That other Code over the weekend, because I've stirred up enough trouble there this week already.

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