Being on the right side

You may know that we love rugby and words at Madrigal Communications. I heard an amusing word story yesterday, which has a particular relevance to the Rugby World Cup (RWC23). Rugby fields can be places where impolite language is sometimes heard. Sledging is very common with things said to unsettle your opponent. However, rugby has been careful in making sure that the values of the wider community are also reflected in the behaviours of players on the field.

Homophobic and racist language

Famously, in 2015 former Wallabies captain David Pocock (and now Australian senator) called out the use of homophobic slurs in an ACT Brumbies rugby game against the NSW Waratahs. The Brumbies reported the incidents to the governing body and alleged “the word f—– was used”.

A few years later when I was coaching, I had a player red-carded for the same crime in a game which ended our team’s run in the finals and also ended my coaching run. I didn’t think I had needed to warn the players before the game not to use homophobic or racist slurs but with hindsight perhaps I should have.

Rugby diversity

A friend of mine relayed a story to me from one of his employees who is South African and coaches junior rugby in western Sydney. Recently he had been approached before a game by an opposition coach who begged his understanding for several of his young players who were South African and often shouted instructions to each other in Afrikaans (the old Dutch language spoken by the Boers). The issue was that several Afrikaans words sounded like English swear words. He, being South African himself, understood and all was fine.

Blindside & offside

In rugby the way you describe your position on the field is always in terms of your “side” (similarly to right-hand side and left-hand side). When you are behind your team-mate who has the ball you are “onside”; and if you are in front of them you are “offside” (simplistically).

When a scrum is held near a sideline the space between the scrum and the nearest sideline is known as the blindside and the space between the scrum and the further sideline is known as the open side.

Now the Afrikaans word for “side” is “kant” and this is what has caused a bit of an international incident.

RWC23 incident

In last weekend’s England vs South Africa RWC semi-final, South African, Bongi Mbonambi, who is Black, was accused by England’s Tom Curry, who is White, of using a racial slur. The accusation against Mbonambi didn’t ring true with many, as he is considered a calm and responsible man who often captains the SA team.

During the semi-final both teams were in their home jerseys, South Africa in the dark green and England in white. What Bongi is most likely to have said during the scrum was “white side” meaning the ball had been won by England. This of course translates as “wit kant” and, almost inevitably, resulted in a flare up and shoving match between the teams.

The importance of cultural sensitivity should now be clear to both sides.