Let’s ban rugby, and all school sports

There isn’t much in the modern curriculum that is designed as torture: except sport

Health experts from the UK and US wrote to the Minister for Sport, the Chief Medical Officer and the Children’s Ombudsman in Ireland calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby. Photograph: Eric Luke

Health experts from the UK and US wrote to the Minister for Sport, the Chief Medical Officer and the Children’s Ombudsman in Ireland calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Rejoice, pale, milky-eyed children. Salvation may be at hand. Last week, more than 70 health experts from the UK and US wrote to the Minister for Sport, the Chief Medical Officer, and the Children’s Ombudsman in Ireland calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby.

George Hook was among those who responded that rugby without tackling isn’t really rugby. It is like yachting without the boat or tennis without the drugs. Life-threatening thuggery is what makes filthy rugby the game it is.

“You may as well ban rugby altogether,” the sport’s apologists sigh. This anti-argument is made in the same voice they might use if discussing the potential banning of clouds or cake, but this is, in fact, a magnificent idea. Let’s go further. Let’s ban all sport from schools.

Obviously, school is not meant to be fun. It’s intended to be a depressing, boring, unfair experience that prepares you for the even greater depression, boredom and unfairness of real life.

After being smacked with a metaphorical wet fish for six years, you’re probably ready to be smacked with a metaphorical knobbly stick for the rest of your wretched existence.

Still, there isn’t much in the modern curriculum that is designed as torture. (French sometimes seems that way, but this is just an accidental consequence of that nation’s stubborn adherence to the past perfect tense.)

Sport is another matter. Picture the young Donald. He is wan, weak and weary. Dressed in a flimsy cotton top that has been glued to his freezing blue skin by the hurricane that invariably blows in on games afternoons, he pathetically tries to arrange a hockey stick so that it simultaneously covers all his most sensitive body parts.

A hockey ball is honed from material so hard it could be mounted on the business end of a rock drill. It weighs more than a racing bicycle.

Yet there are people on the pitch who, if the deadly item comes their way, will care to direct it towards the goal.

If somebody flings a hatchet at my testicles (a fair comparison, you’ll agree) then I’m getting out of the way as fast as possible.

Rugby chaps tended to regard hockey as a game for sissies. Though hideously dangerous, the stick sport does not actively encourage players to hammer the living ordure out of one another.

I have never played rugby. If I want to be pushed to the ground by bigger men and stamped cruelly in the face then I will spend an evening in Temple Bar. At least you can get a kebab there.

Nothing about the activity appealed to me as a young man. For the rest of the school day, bullying was frowned upon. School rugby felt like an ongoing invitation for the intellectually frustrated to flatten frail Joy Division fans into cowpats.

For the uninterested, school sport really is close to institutional torture. If you don’t enjoy maths you will experience mere boredom. If you don’t enjoy rugby then you will (as I understand it) experience fear, discomfort, alienation and depression. So, yes, let’s ban filthy rugby. Let’s ban all school sports.

No, you’re quite right. The proposal doesn’t really hold up. This is an argument for outlawing compulsory sport, rather than doing away with the ghastly business of sport altogether.

I suppose the handsome, popular, thick-necked jocks should – if that is what they really want – be permitted to continue running into one another for recreation.

There is, of course, a deathly serious issue at the heart of this argument. The letter from the doctors highlights a real danger. “The UK and Irish governments should ensure the safety of rugby, by removing the contact from the children’s game in schools,” it said.

Approached from one angle, the continuing tolerance of rugby in schools makes no sense. Ponder the health and safety regulations that attend the average school field trip. If such a jaunt involved violent grappling that could lead to serious injury then it would never be allowed.

A calculation has been made that the rewards from playing rugby – mystifying to me, but undeniable to many – justify the not inconsiderable risk entailed.

This is an equation that only the enthusiast can hope to balance. It is, however, a class of mathematics that we all make throughout our lives. If older children are sufficiently well informed about the dangers then they and their parents should be allowed to run the figures for themselves.

Such principles should apply throughout life. Consider recreational drugs. It seems similarly reasonable that any adult be allowed to make the same decision about whether or not to use cannabis.

You didn’t see that coming. Did you?

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