Let us Kiss and Part

By David

Readers outside New Zealand, the UK and France may have missed this great photograph of rugby action. The photograph was taken during a recent test match between France and England. The action shown is a set play called a scrum where eight players from both sides pack down against each other. The ball is thrown between the two sides who then fight to capture and control the ball. In this particular scrum two players from France and two from England appear to be exploring the full meaning of contact sport. Probably of more concern is the location of the English flanker’s (that’s the position he plays on the side of the white scrum) hand up the shorts of his amorous team mate. I’ve played several games of rugby and know of no legitimate reason for having ones hand in that position. Of almost equal concern is the French number eight’s (that’s the position he plays at the back of the blue scrum) hand carefully and gently holding his team mates bottom.

Now I have to tell you Rugby is a sport that takes great pride in its masculinity. New Zealand history is littered with tough buggers who played the game. Colin Meads built fences on his King Country farm all week and destroyed opposition players on a rugby field on Saturday afternoon. Jaz Muller cut his hedge with a lawn mower. Buck Shelford played on against the French with his scrotum torn in half. Tiny White, Graham Mourie, Sid Going, Sir Brian Lahore, on and on these men are real men; masculine role models; everyone is a man’s man.

What damage has this photograph done? What disrepair has it caused? Generations of men have looked on at the deeds of the nation’s rugby players with awe and respect. Now we find some players are using the game to indulge in some deep throat exploration and up the shorts fondles. It feels like someone in the family has died. We’ve just been told Santa and the Tooth Fairy are made up. Degree, priority and place have been damaged beyond repair.

Rugby players, the press and ESPN may brand swimming as an easy sport; not nearly as tough as American football or New Zealand rugby. But, I tell you what. You don’t find swimmers patting each other on the bottom part way through a deck change or having a quick kiss over the lane lines after the men’s 50 freestyle. A few of the old guard may have shuddered at Amanda Beard’s Playboy photographs. But at least they are straight, honest and in the right place. Yes indeed, in swimming, a sport that, after all, involves a minimum of clothing, the rules of good behavior are being better observed.

But wait, I may have reacted too soon. New Zealand’s Radio Sport is telling me the photograph is a shame; it’s been staged as part of a campaign advertising the 2007 Rugby World Cup about to begin in France. I feel a wave of relief. These are not real players; men whose feats I’ve followed since childhood. It is just an act. But soon my fear returns. Staging a photograph like this is worse than if it was real. This is deliberate. It is planned to advertise the game. It is an image of the sport’s World Championships. It may be a pointer of where the game is going.

I’m confused and glad to be part of swimming; a sport that still has Amanda Beard and a skilled and modest deck change.