Rugby is a sport of values

Open letter to the unions’ presidents, technical staff, players, coaches, fans…

Rugby is a sport of values and these values shape us as sportsmen and sportswomen as well as individuals.

Integrity, respect, solidarity, passion and discipline must guide our behaviors and actions to protect our uniqueness as a sport, attracting day after day more players and fans.

If we do not nurture our values and our relevant code of conduct we will become one of many other sports suffering from so many ethical, moral and behavioral issues.

It sounds obvious and you must be wondering why you are receiving such an open letter but I must confess that I am getting increasingly worried after repeatedly witnessing the same type of negative attitudes on and off the field in Africa.

The CAR competitions hosted on our continent over the last few weeks were highly successful but presented one major problem.

During the CAR Women Sevens in Kenya, one of the defeated team in the semi-finals attributed the results to the referee and vandalized the tunnel leading to the changing rooms, later on a number of ladies refused to shake hands with the referee during the medals and trophies ceremony.

During the Africa Cup 1B, the coach of one of the participating team lost his mind on the side of the pitch and communicated his fury to some of his players who in turn threatened the match officials. At the end of the match, the said coach shouted at the referee to call him a thief – note his team had lost by 18 points difference – and to finish the President of the defeated team’s union refused to shake hands with the referee during the medals and trophies ceremony.

During the Africa Cup 1A, one of the teams lost 37 – 0 and again blamed the referee for their defeat.

Threats and insults were heard and the following day the press was largely attributing the 7 conceded tries to the whistleblower.

In the same tournament, another team lashed out at the referee to explain their loss.

One of the player almost shoved the referee at the end of the game and during the closing function the President of the defeated team’ s union railed against the referees during his official speech. A short while thereafter the coach of the same team came and pushed the referee arguing that he was having a conversation with a team he didn’t ref on the same day.

Of course referees can make mistake, just like we all do, every day, in our lives and jobs. But jumping to the conclusion that all referees are dishonest and that every time a team loses it is due to the whistleblower is for me totally unacceptable , inappropriate and actually dangerous.

A defeat can surely be attributed to the fact that the opponents were stronger, that the players for various reasons did not perform, that the coach made the wrong decisions during the game or did not prepare the team appropriately. Let’s question ourselves when things don’t work as expected and let’s stop always blaming someone else for our own shortfalls.

If we do not hold fast on our values which gave our sport its grandeur and majesty, one day a player, a manager, a fan will physically abuse a referee and send him/her to hospital or worse. We will then all be guilty for not having fought against this plague which affects so severely our friends in football.

Everywhere in the world, non-rugby people admire the respect for the referee displayed during major competitions on TV. We as passionate leaders of rugby in Africa must not be those who would change his image.

Let’s fight together to make sure integrity, respect, solidarity, passion and discipline remain at the heart of our passion.

Jean-Luc Barthes

Regional Development Manager – Africa, International Rugby Board

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