Rugby Union Football in the Dock!

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

The gentlemanly sport of Rugby Union Football (Rugby) has hit the news headlines recently for all the wrong reasons!

Following a recent referendum of the French Amateur Rugby Clubs, the next head coach of France will not be a foreigner but must be a French national.

A new coach to replace the current one, Jacques Brunel, is due to be appointed after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which will take place in September in Japan, But the favourite, the New Zealander, Warren Gatland, the current Wales coach, who is leaving after 12 years in the job, will not be the one to replace Brunel. Or, indeed, will any other foreigner!

59% of the French Clubs participating in the referendum voted against the appointment of a foreign coach.

Bernard Laporte, the President of the French Rugby Federation said that he would respect the result:

“I welcome this democratic expression and of course I will respect that choice.”

Seven aside Rugby is an Olympic Sport, having been reintroduced, in that format, in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and will again feature in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In fact, twenty-four teams, consisting of twelve teams each of men and women, will take part.

So how the French decision on the nationality of the French Rugby Team Coach squares with the absolute prohibition against all forms of discrimination in sport under the Olympic Charter is difficult to understand!

In another development, Australian Rugby is also in trouble.

Israel Folau, the Australian Rugby ‘star’, of Tongan descent and a devout Pentecostal Christian, with strong views on homosexuality, is facing the sack, unless he can show “compelling mitigating factors”, after posting homophobic remarks on social media.

The decision whether or not to dismiss him is a difficult one, on sporting and social grounds, for Rugby Australia, the sport’s governing body, as it comes at a difficult time for Australian Rugby, which is losing popularity. It also comes after Australia legalised same sex marriage in 2017 and Folau was a prominent opponent of this move.

Furthermore, in England, Billy Vunipola, a fellow Australian of Tongan descent, who plays for the England National Rugby Team and the English Premiership Rugby Club, Saracens, is also facing disciplinary action by his Club and the England Rugby Football Union, the sport’s governing body, over his support for Folau’s anti-gay Instagram post.

It will be very interesting to see what happens next in all these cases!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’