The Game They Play in Heaven (Part III)

A couple of days ago I wrote about how many things in Rugby haven’t changed or have progressed since I wrote my first column in NZ Rugby World magazine in 1997.  Today I want to refer to two issues I didn’t cover then and which are both very threatening.
Two huge social issues have dominated the worlds of Sport and Rugby this month.
Religion and Racism.
One of the most exciting players in world Rugby, Israel Folau, promised sinners an eternity in hell – targeting drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves and atheists.  This created a furore in social media throughout the world, and his employers, Rugby Australia, confirmed they intended to terminate his contract for breaching his contractual social media guidelines.
The line driving the most comment is point number 2 (homosexuals) which is the latest in a number of anti-gay attacks from Folau along the lines of ‘hell awaits gay people unless they repent’.
A fellow Tongan Christian and all round good bloke (who certainly has enjoyed a beer or two), England No. 8 Billy Vunipola has joined the debate by liking Folau’s original Tweet and stating (in a more measured tone) his fundamental belief in the natural procreation based unity of male and female.
What a storm this has created.
Rugby is a sport where diversity, inclusion and tolerance have always been core to its growth, and its popularity.
I hope the governing bodies do not take the easy, obvious way out and simply lash out and punish the two men involved.  Instead I hope they seek to listen, understand, and then work with all constituents so those involved can come to a more rational, more open, more modern, more global and more tolerant understanding of the issues – and their roles as public figures.
Humanity, patience, forgiveness and a commitment to find a way forward (from all parties) is what is needed to protect the values of our great game – not just dark threats, immediate retribution and hardening of positions.  Education as well as punishment is the way forward.
And in the midst of all this, the whole racism issue is escalating in Football, and Rugby could be next.  Supporter abuse towards players of colour is on the rise in Football club grounds everywhere and in international stadia too.  Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has been forthright in his anti-racism stance and has been supported internationally by the public, players and the media.  But the abuse continues.  More and more supporters are subjecting black players to the worse kind of abuse.
This is a societal problem, not just a Football issue, in many European countries and the recent rise in popularity of nationalism politics has exacerbated the problem.  Nations will have to tackle it.
My particular concern here is Rugby related.  I am worried that if racism does raise its ugly head – if players are abused for the colour of their skin, then it will be cancerous for our open, inclusive, global game – which is open to all shapes, sizes, genders and races.
So, keep your eyes open.
Be on full alert.

Recent Posts

Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


Books on


Join us. Sign up for our blog.

Receive our regular updates in your in-box.