I Fought The Law

THE booing and ‘fan’ confrontation of Saracens’ star Billy Vunipola on the pitch at Coventry shows the increasingly ugly side of rugby.

The England number eight has courted controversy for his apparent support of Aussie superstar, Israel Folau, who has been threatened with the sack for saying homosexuals face eternal damnation in the fires of hell.

But is that really what the jeers were for? Or were the Munster fans simply looking for a villain in the partisan pantomime, a reason to boo the opposition?

Now, let me stress, as a white, middle aged Christian I don’t agree with Folau’s views on homosexuals being cast into hell.

For me the whole point of Christianity is supposed to be acceptance, love – even for those pesky Samaritans.

Folau has already been warned about his social media behaviour, following a previous outburst and thus, should have known better. Except, his faith is strong and Christian and persecution are terms he will know are married in the Bible.

But there is a huge layer of hypocrisy in the way the authorities deal with sport. Rugby Australia is keen to make an example of Folau for his latest transgression. His livelihood might go, but not his beliefs. Isn’t punishing someone for their beliefs the way society used to treat homosexuals not so long ago?

Whatever the rights or wrong, Folau is being honest and true to his principles in his tweets, no matter how awful or difficult to stomach they may be.

Yet at the same time as his public dressing down, another Aussie sporting body, Cricket Australia, warmly welcomed back into its ranks two cheats. As captain and vice captain of the Australian cricket team, Steve Smith and David Warner knew the ball tampering they were guilty of broke the rules of the sport.

So many times cricket’s etiquette has been challenged, broken and abused by players, with Smith and Warner chief among them in Ashes clashes with England.

Back to rugby, if the Australian authorities feel so strongly about LGBT rights, and I hope they do, then it might be time to reconsider putting teams into competitions in certain countries.

Maybe a boycott of the Dubai Sevens, perhaps? Because I wonder what the attitude to LGBT rights is in Dubai? Or women’s rights, or human rights in general?

The Dubai Sevens, celebrating its golden anniversary in 2019 is sponsored by Emirates. The same company that sponsors Cricket Australia. Hmm. The same company that is so linked to sporting sponsorship across the globe.

Or maybe Folau should be a shoe in for any rugby events in Dubai and the more liberal, live and let live guys in the Wallabies squad, such as Michael Hooper, get left at home?

What about a boycott of the Hong Kong Sevens? China’s LGBT approach is hardly in line with that in Western civilisations, ignoring their human rights and animal rights failings, which, to be fair, are pretty hard to ignore.

And let’s be fair, it’s not just Australia. The Rugby Football Union, which has seen fit to chastise Vunipola Junior, another committed Christian, for apparently backing Folau, is more than happy to turn a blind eye when it suits.

It will be more than happy to send its teams to countries with an atrocious approach to LGBT rights in the chase for cash, points and glory.

Yet, let’s just focus on the game itself. The core values of rugby are supposed to include discipline and sportsmanship, yet Munster fans leaving The Ricoh Stadium were left bemoaning the lack of policing of the offside line, players being behind the kicker and blocking.

One fan on a rugby forum said it was all about being ‘savvy’. Saracens are one of the most savvy teams, making another Champions Cup final on the back of yesterday’s win. A victory for wilfully and knowingly bending and breaking the rules. Just like they have apparently done with the Premiership cap and lest we forget, their success has been artificial, bought with billionaire bucks.

And as regards all teams having to be a bit more savvy? Maybe, but I feel the game is being prostituted for gain at every turn. Players are chatting to referees, trying to tell them their business at every scrum, ruck or maul. There is more dissent being shown to referees than I have ever witnessed. The La Rochelle player who kicked out at Sale’s Denny Solomona in the Challenge Cup semi-final argued he had done nothing wrong even after several replays on the big screen showed the kick towards the head in glorious technicolour.

I’ll stress again, I don’t share Folau’s view of who will be cast into eternal damnation in the fires of hell.

But isn’t it odd that a man should be punished for remaining true to his beliefs, while the cheats march on towards success and glory?

And that the same authorities cracking down on him are quite happy to take the coin, support and do business with countries and their businesses with appalling LGBT rights?