In what is possibly the longest feature ever, George ZM tells us all he can about his favourite sport, Rugby.
As the next Malta Rugby international game approaches, I would like to take this space to talk about the sport I have come to love, rugby and how it has helped mould me as a person in the same way scouting raised me.
It may be hard to imagine, but rugby and scouting do have a lot in common when you break them down to their core values. Both cultures (I was going to say hobbies, but we all know that scouting is a way of life and I'm sure you'll soon think the same of rugby) are built on the same fundamental pillars of Respect, Acceptance and most of all Fun. Let me get into more detail (for those parents already muttering about safety, I'll cover that too).
We've all seen the recent FIFA adverts on respect. Rugby has no need for them, and it's governing bodies haven't found themselves looking for ways to better assert the authority of its referees, as the concept of respect is built into its laws (yes laws, not rules). You will not see a swarm of players bad mouthing a referee for his decision, they wouldn't dare. This respect extends beyond the pitch and the final whistle. All players will admit, that for the 80 minutes of game time, the opposition might as well be an invading army trying to pillage their village and they will play like the soldiers charged with defending it, but after the final whistle blows hands are shook and laughs exchanged. The culture of the game focuses heavily on the social aspect of the game, with the "Third Half" being a staple activity after games. The concept is that rugby is a way of forming friendships, creating an extended family.
As someone who spent his youth cycling through sports, I was happily surprised by this aspect, I had never been part of a sporting community where the opposition players are as much your friends as they are your competitors. This can even be paralleled to scouting. The Game is your Activity, the Club is your Patrol, the Captain is your Patrol Leader and the Ref is your SPL. This aspect of respect stretches beyond the lines of the pitch, supporters are also encouraged to maintain their respect as well, the chants are still there, the shouting at a player who missed a tackle are still there, even the insults... but the aggression is not. There's no need to separate fans at a rugby match, you enjoy the game with the visiting teams supporters side by side, sharing in the experience and the atmosphere. The theory here is that the aggression is played out on the pitch and the supporters let the players do the work they're here for. Unlike for example a certain game played with a round ball...
When it comes to acceptance and inclusion, no other sport really does it like rugby. The sport goes beyond your standard "We accept all regardless of race, sexuality and social background”... I have yet to find another sport that uses the tagline ”regardless of your size or fitness" there's a position for you". I find that this all lies in the history of rugby, Rugby Union (the most common form of rugby globally) has its feet placed firmly in its amateur sport roots. So much so that it was one of the last modern day sports to become a professional sport, in 1995. The basis always was that rugby was a persons life outside of work. After the five years I've been part of the local sport it still inspires me to see people who never found themselves fitting into other sports finding their place and confidence in the sport I have grown to love. I still regret that I was never introduced to the sport, I might have avoided that prolonged chubby phase (I console myself by saying it was puppy fat).
Now to the part you've all been looking for... Safety. I will not say that rugby is a zero injury sport, it's a contact sport so not expecting to get the occasional knock would be naive, though it's not as bad as you've been brought to believe (It's anti rugby propaganda from the round balls). The way rugby is played and managed shows how safety is always a prime concern. The rules themselves put safety at the forefront of every decision. This is implemented through tried and tested methods. Whenever a new player comes to rugby, they are thought how to fall before they are thought to tackle, it may sound silly to some but it makes sense. It takes time to master how to tackle a person and requires experience on the pitch to do so, but the opposition isn't going to go easy on you just because you're new. So one of the first lessons is always on what to do when you get tackled. The truth is, in most cases, it's not the tackle that hurts you but how you hit the ground. Now some of you are thinking, "why don't you wear padding like in American Football", I will not get into the tactical and technical differences of the sports (nor how I gag when people treat the two as one and the same). Recent studies have proven that the protective gear worn by American footballers actually makes the sport more dangerous than rugby. This is because the equipment gives the player a sense of security which leads to recklessness and hence more injuries. There have actually been suggestions that the sport rids itself of this protective gear to (irony alarm) protect the players. The rules of rugby union also put heavy focus on the player's safety, but I won't bore you with them. I won't lie though, don't expect to leave a game without the odd bruise and ache, though I can say the same for most activities at scouts. You might even end up like me, priding yourself on the bruises you find after a game.
My personal experience with rugby has been a brilliant one, I've loved the sport since my very first training session and it's only gotten better since then! I can honestly say that it was also thanks to my experience as a scout that I managed to enjoy rugby to its fullest! To quell the worries of any leaders who think I'm going to poach their scouts for rugby, and any parents who think I'm going to distract their child from his studies, it's all about balance. I managed to work a part time job, come to scouts and train rugby, all whilst going to school for my A'levels (I'm in university now... So I guess it worked). It's all about learning to balance things (as well as cutting out the extra nights out), which is a skill I believe a person should learn early on. I hope I've managed to convince you to give this gem of sporting a try.
Thanks for your time,
George Zammit Montebello
Rover and Rugby Player