A firearm on the rugby field; what’s next?

People come to watch sport to enjoy as well as relax. Players do what they do because they are passionate about the game. In whatever way you may be involved you would have heard stories of fights occurring between players on the same or opposing teams, between coaches of opposing teams, between parents and coaches, players and referees, coaches and referees and parents and referees. Perhaps it is just in the competitive nature of sports, but violence can occur on and off the field, regardless of the level of play.

In a contact sport such as rugby tempers may rise as the tendency for physical action is a possibility. The game however is governed by a set of laws that prevent violence but lend the physical aspects of the game to be an enjoyable sport. Within this laws and the ethos of the game one has never heard of a firearm being released by a player in the playing enclosure at the Kandy Air Force match. This news shocked not only rugby in particular and sport in general but also the fabric of a society in Sri Lanka.

This issue needs immediate action: if we wait to dissect the particulars of how or why these incidents occurred, then we will be too late, and, it’ll happen again. It will keep happening unless we believe that the reputation of the game is not a choice or option but a must. It seems to be an option to some who compromise what they have built over the years. At the heart of Rugby is a unique ethos which it has retained over the years. Not only is the Game played to the Laws, but within the spirit of the Laws. The game of rugby has moved forward in so many ways since it started in 1823. Yet some who embrace the game forget the basics and the whole expectation are negated. There are many examples, as we read and hear of utterances by various elements supported by various cohorts who forget the spirit of the game and also the expectation of the founding fathers. This is not unique to a particular school or club but is fast gaining ground in many of them who don’t understand the downside of their actions as they lead venom. The venom of the human being garbed in conspiracy, greed, and hatred that is more vicious than the venom of a snake.

The discipline, control, mutual self-respect, fellowship, and sense of fair play forged, in defining Rugby as the Game is forgotten. All because of the selfish attitude seeking acceptance and approval of peer groups and target audiences. As the spirit is lost there is abuse: verbal and physical assault, missile throwing etc when your aspirations are not met even though it may not be the expected outcome.

The news of a player releasing a firearm from within the playing enclosure was most disturbing. It is not what he brought but what was carried by another for security purposes. If this is the result of a lack of self control on the part of the player then it is a dangerous man to have on the field. I am made to understand, as transpired at the inquiry, this is another attempt to discredit. The player has acted bravely in defusing another who shot in the air as a warning to the crowd who were boisterous. To my naïve mind; what was an armed individual doing on the field? If he was not a policeman then who and or what were he trying to protect or attack?

Rugby is a game to be enjoyed by players as well as spectators. These two parties are in a chicken and egg situation. There is no game without players and no game without spectators. If there are no spectators there will be no sponsors and then the cycle of a downward trend of the game will continue.
A picture of a father cuddling two children seeking safety was a sad sight and a bad one for the game. In a game that is termed to be a sport for all. If spectators have run to save themselves what purpose do they come to see a game of rugby?

Can the SLRFU take a relaxed attitude expecting that if there was anything to be done it should be the work of the Police? The incidents happened in the playing enclosure which leads to a responsibility on the part of the controlling body who are also the promoters of this tournament. The situation is not something that a referee can control even though it is in the playing enclosure. It is the bigger arm of rugby management that has to recognize that there is an issue.

One can take refuge and point fingers at Kandy Sports club and its supporters. The home team is responsible for security and it looked that the arrangements were inadequate. The spectators themselves were not in their best behavior yet the violence that was unleashed will definitely make the spectator think twice before he comes for a match.

Similarly all those who are involved in the game at school, as well as club rugby have to look inwards and ask “are we responsible in some way.” Have our action contributed in one way or another. Have supporters, believing in our irresponsible statements and vituperative gestures, turned aggressive and violent.

Simply put, when individuals and institutions don’t have the skills and training to handle issues conflict escalates. When healthy conflict resolution is not part of a given culture then conflict escalates. De-escalating issues are very important and unless that happens we will see more and more violence as all will want to have their say.

Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, coach and Accredited Referees Evaluator IRB

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