Privilege and Rugby

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Some of us have attended protests, many of us are educating ourselves, and movements are being made. Most of these have been surrounding the Black community, their stories, their history, etc. and rightly so. The many things we can learn from their community and how we can support them is incredibly important. I have been so encouraged to see the voices raised from the Pasifika community in support of the Black community and the those within our community who identify with both.

With that being said, about two weeks ago, the Pasifika community was also raising their voices against a radio personality who made a racist comment about Pasifika names. That person was Erin Molan. While on the radio, during high racial tensions of all times, she decides it’s a great time to “poke fun” at how we pronounce our names. She has since issued a statement that she says is an apology, but to me lacks much tact and is a sad excuse of an apology. Plus, she didn’t receive any consequences from her employers. This right here is privilege – specifically white privilege.

But, as the Pasifika community, should we really be that surprised? For us, white privilege and rugby go hand and hand. Recently, the Rugby Union has made rules that go against us. They have also made a decision, that I really don’t understand, but it seems to cut our islands off and put us at a disadvantage. If that’s not systematic racism, I don’t know what else to call it. In 2019, there was an article from RNZ called Racism in rugby? Where do you want to start?, and touches on this subject. A very insightful read that I will get to later.

But first, let’s talk about privilege and rugby…

Privilege has been at the heart of rugby

This past weekend, I watched a six-part series over the history of rugby. It was call The Story of Rugby (very original). It was really insightful though. What I loved about this series is that, while it gave more of an overview of the history, it also gave you a glimpse at the system that was put in place. As I would love to go in-depth about the series, you can actually check it out for yourself on Amazon Prime. But, here is what I did notice. Rugby has been a game of privilege for some since its inception.

Rugby began in England. As much as we love to claim this sport ours, and it is, we have to acknowledge its origins. The reason being is that it is a colonizer’s sport. What is one thing we know colonizers to do? Make it about privilege, and they did this to their own people as well. You see back in England the North of England and the South of England don’t get along. Because of this discourse, there was a split in rugby. The posh versus the poor. The Union versus the League.

There’s much that goes into this history, how it effected the game, the game going pro and paying the players, etc. You see back then the posh could just play and not worry about making a living whereas the poor had to work hard and then go play hard. There was a constant struggle.

Then enter the IRB who is described as the “snobby white guys who smoked and had a secret club.” This group of men would decide whether or not rugby players got paid. Why is this important to the history of privilege in rugby? Well, not much as changed on the IRB. If you take a look at the board, it’s a bunch of snobby white men who make decisions and seem to have a secret club.

But, in modern times economic privilege and white privilege go hand-and-hand.

White Privilege and Rugby

How many times do we have to listen to commentators who won’t take the time to learn our names? How many times must decisions be made in the union that are specific to Pacific Islanders? And don’t come at me with this rhetoric. But, our names are hard, shouldn’t we give them some some slack? And wait, but aren’t those rules meant to protect the players? This rhetoric is a load of BS. That’s just assimilation talking.

These are just a couple of examples. Just like with Erin Molan. That kind of subtle racism should not be permitted. I mean I was absolutely annoyed to see some Pasifika people going, “Have we lost our Polynesian humor?” 1. We have not lost our humor. We are holding people accountable now. 2. By not saying anything, you are giving way to worse offenders to do more harm. 3. She is the epitome of white privilege in the rugby world.

I mean how hard is it before a game to practice our names? It’s really not that hard. In all honesty, it’s your job to learn how to accurately say our names. I say if you were in radio or television and you don’t know how to accurately say names, pick another profession. Do you know how much trouble I get into at my own job for making a mistake like that? That’s right. I wouldn’t have a job. The fact that she got to keep her job is astounding.

Then there’s the “new rules” of rugby. During the 2019 World Cup, I wrote a bit about how World Rugby is creating rules that are specifically against how Pacific Islanders play. I mean if you watched or listened to the games, who did the “dangerous” tackle call get most flagged at? Pacific Islanders. It’s leaving this image that we are a bunch of savages that will kill at any cost. Which is a load of BS. Have you seen some of those old video game tapes? I mean there were a bunch of white dudes making and taking some hard hits.

The “dangerous tackle” rule isn’t the worst of it. Recently, they made a decision, to be honest I don’t understand, that would essentially isolate the Pacific Islands from the rest of the world. Making it harder for us to fund our teams and players. In a way, segregating the world. Now, if I’m explaining this incorrectly some please let me know. I just remember seeing they made a decision that could basically do away with Pacific Island teams.

Pacific Islander teams are already struggling to keep our players. This is where economic privilege and white privilege overlap in rugby. There is no denying this privilege exists when comparing the countries. With the rule I just mentioned, this is making it even worse. Back in the amateur days, our teams were strong. And, I get it. Money speaks and players need to provide for our families. However, there are times it seems like the money own us rather than pride for the motherland.

Also, this is just a side rant, but rugby commentators, STOP COMMENTATING ON OUR HAIR! Good gosh. Our hair has nothing to do with how we are playing the game. For once I want there to be an Pacific Islander commentator that is like, “Would you look at Chad’s blonde hair. It’s a bit lighter than the last time we saw him on the pitch,” or “Did you see A-A-Ron’s massive kick. His hair with all that gel stay in place. Incredible.” I mean, seriously, stop these kind of comments. They are not needed at all.

Time to Speak Up

Pasifika rugby players, I’m looking at you. When will you speak up? When will you say, “Enough is enough.” In the late 1980s, rugby players were faced with a decision to make. To play in a tour that would support an apartheid or to say, “no, I will not play,” in order to support those who were fighting for the freedoms of the oppressed. If you know the history of the tour to South Africa and when they came to New Zealand, you will know that 30 players went and 2 stayed behind.

It’s time that we get rid of the “model citizen” mindset. Why do you think the Black Lives Matter movement or earlier Civil Rights Movements worked? It was because the main players stood up with the movement. It’s going to take rugby players saying, “Enough,” for change to happen. It’s going to take people on the board saying, “We need more representation from the Pacific Islanders in the room.”

Oh yeah, from what I remember, there’s not ONE Pacific Islander on the Council or Executive Committee. We have to be in that room. If they expect us to be on the field, they need to expect us to be in the room. How are we supposed to protect our teams, our way of playing, our people if we aren’t in the room or a part of the conversation. It’s going to take Pacific Islander players, coaches, team doctors, media managers, staff, etc. speaking up and saying something.

We have to stop the Erin Molans of this rugby world from belittling who we are in the game. They love us when we win for them, but they should love us no matter what. They should respect who we are, our culture, and our values. If they don’t, then they should know that we won’t back down for calling them out and making sure they learn their lesson. No more sorry excuse for an apology. It’s time they are sincere and actually give a care. Whether that be going to a diversity classes or being demoted. I’m one for people learning their lesson and joining the cause. Not putting a pacifier in and trying to shut people up. Erin Molans of the world it’s time you learned.

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