Fly-Halfs: Institutional Racism in Rugby

ENGLISH Rugby Union, it seems, still has a problem with race. This is a statement which may seem jarring at first and it may even seem down-right false. Though not very successful, Lancaster’s England selection for the Rugby World Cup featured many prominent non-white players who play a pivotal role in everything the team try to do.

Billy Vunipola is the main-man where breaking the gain-line is concerned and his brother offers dynamism in the front-row when England need it most. Courtney Lawes is England’s fiercest lock and Jonathan Joseph, their most creative centre. How, then, can rugby be racist? My problem is not with the lack of athletes in English Rugby who are from an ethnic minority. My problem is with the quite stark lack of non-white fly-halves.

One does not have to look very hard in order to see signs of this rather bizarre and specific example of inequality. In the Aviva Premiership this coming season, only one of the 12 sides competing has a starting non-white fly half. This is Ben Botica who was born in Takapuna, New-Zealand, and who currently plays as the incumbent fly-half for Harlequins. Of course, one may seek to criticise me for the statement and claim that there simply are not any black fly-halves in the Premiership, I am reading too much into things and making an issue of race where there is not one. But, if this is true then what can the possible reasoning be? Are there no black players skilful enough to be a fly-half? Of course there are, look at Jonathan Joseph or Kyle Eastmond, both of whom are black centres that frequently display their intelligent, skilful footballing abilities in the Premiership. So what is in fact going on?

Well, the problem in my opinion, begins at an early age. Young black players are dissuaded from (or perhaps just not as well considered for) the play-making positions, as coaches possibly feel they can be used better in the more ‘physical’ positions: centre, back-row or winger. This is a problem which is hard to solve, as many rugby coaches for these grass-roots teams will potentially possess a certain racial bias, which can be attributed to the unconscious racism that many in this country are undoubtedly guilty of. Now, please do not think I am saying that children’s rugby coaches are racist. This would be an unfair and quite frankly ridiculous statement. What I am saying is that all people are susceptible to their own unconscious racial prejudices and that all rugby coaches are going to be inevitably susceptible to this as well. A similar problem can be seen in the NFL, which is often accused of featuring far too few non-white quarter-facks.

Sadly, there are no easy answers to this systemic problem. The lack of black fly-halves in the Premiership is not simply a result of racism in rugby; if it were so, then it would be much easier to solve. It is, rather tragically, indicative of a much wider problem that this nation still has with unconscious bias and racial stereotypes.

James Candler 

Featured image: Standard



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