Monday, June 14, 2010

Racism, Alcohol & Sport

This week saw NSW (‘Blues’) representative league player, Timana Tahu, walk out of the team camp, & the team. Assistant Coach, Andrew Johns, is reported to have made racial comments about three Queensland players: Greg Inglis, Jonathan Thurston & Sam Thaiday. The remarks were apparently made during a drinking session with the players.

There are 2 main issues with which rugby league, the NSWRL, and sports in general, must address:
  • Racism: are there underlying racist attitudes of some of its members? When asked, I am sure every single player, coach, supporter, official will say that they are not racist. Yet occasional derogatory comments about race are still made on the field. they don’t happen often, but they do still happen. Perpetrators often dismiss it as ‘sledging’ and ‘it didn’t mean anything’. But it reflects deep-seated attitudes, some of which surface under pressure. Timana Tahu has apparently thought for some time before taking his action. He is to be commended for not acting in haste; and for taking action on principle. The alleged racist comments are the most important driver of events.
  • Alcohol & drugs: the time has long since passed when team “bonding sessions” should be based on alcoholic stupor, and the stupidity that follows. With respect to Andrew Johns, he has already publicly admitted he is an alcoholic - “For me the problem was alcohol” (& ecstasy). [Andrew Johns, to Phil Gould on The Footy Show, 30-Aug-2007.]
Rugby League managers and administrators put Andrew Johns, and others, in a position where the consumption of grossly excessive amounts of alcohol are not only encouraged, but almost mandatory under considerable peer pressure. Andrew Johns lived a lie involving alcoholism and drug abuse for 10 years. Why would the NSWRL put him into such a situation as part of his work? They must be in breach of OH&S laws. Don’t think the NSW team is alone; Queensland will have had such an alcoholic session. Similar drinking sessions usually follow a game on Friday, Saturday, Sunday; for representative games, for NRL club games, for local club games. Addressing the issue must also include addressing alcohol sponsorship of players, clubs and teams – here the NRL will likely do nothing, they are too gutless: after all, it’s all about the money, not good principle.

Racism; alcohol, and alcoholic players; and the use of drugs on Friday & Saturday night after games are issues that the NRL must address. It’s not the only sport.