I left this comment in response to an article by Vincent Browne in today’s Irish Times, which is titled ‘Painful truths about rugby culture‘. Browne’s article, which associated misogyny, homophobia and masculine hegemony with rugby culture, provoked indignant and dismissive responses.
Tony O’Reilly, former Irish rugby international (via)
Why so down on the Browne? It’s clear the writer isn’t criticising the sport of rugby as such, but rugby culture.
We all know rugby in Ireland is still mostly an elite sport. Irish rugby culture is intertwined with Irish elite culture more broadly. The sport originates in elite institutions concerned with producing the ideal Christian gentleman: an individual who was a beacon of health, physically vigorous and morally principled, and loyal to his fellows. You still see that original ideal in the mediated presentation of Brian O’Driscoll and others as true gents: nice people, do a lot of work for charity and so on. And at the same time, they’re tough and single-minded competitors.
But we also know that the history of this whole world of physical vigour, moral probity and hail-fellow-well-met sportsmanship is also the history of icy cold calculation, masculine domination, institutional brutality and the subjugation of women. As the saying goes, the bigger the front, the bigger the back: polished gentlemanliness is the flipside of libidinous boorishness.
However, in the present, the ideal figure produced by elite institutions isn’t so much a Christian gent. It is a tough-minded entrepreneur, usually a man, pitting himself against all others in a war of all against all. And yet, he is bound to intense collaborative networks where each subjects himself and others to perpetual surveillance and appraisal.
This is the dominant culture, and it informs the celebration of the Irish rugby hero, whose image is fused with corporate logos and aspirational slogans. If you can’t take the pain imposed by this culture, it’s because you need to ‘man up’, or because you are not a ‘team player’, and in the final instance, it is the strongest and the fittest who survive.