Fijian joy and Welsh fury at Rugby performances

October 1, 2007


Just another rugby game. But when Fiji beat Wales in the 2007 rugby world cup, the nation erupted into joyful celebrations. The losers braced themselves for national fury

It was a week in which bloody events in Burma overshadowed sporting contests. The customary sporting rhetoric of disaster and retributive justice meted out to the losers of a rugby game seemed inappropiate.

As for the rugby, the mighty celebrations in Fiji, we learned, were perhaps partly too be curtailed until after the Sabbath. Fijians, like the Welsh are a religious nation.

My jotted notes after the Fiji game

This is a bad week to fall back on the customary sporting rhetoric, and a vocabulary of natonal humiliation, shame, and atonement, with calls for ritualistic sacrifice of the coach (Gareth Jenkins), the Welsh Rugby Union officials, the captain, (‘Alfie’ Thomas) team members, training squad.

Within a few hours the observations turned out to be less rhetorical than I had intended them to be. The BBC reported the news.

Gareth Jenkins has been sacked as Wales head coach after his side crashed out of the World Cup. Jenkins was told of the Welsh Rugby Union’s decision by chief executive Roger Lewis and chairman David Pickering at the team hotel on Sunday. Lewis said: “No-one would deny the total commitment and passion that Gareth Jenkins has given to the cause. “His desire for success has been tangible – you can taste it, you can smell it – but it was not to be.”

The sacrifices had begun

[Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears….].

Roger Lewis came to praise Jenkins having carried out the necessary act of sacred execution on behalf of a betrayed nation.

‘This decisive decision was made on behalf of Welsh rugby, but also on behalf of Gareth Jenkins’.

Sorry. Didn’t quite get that. The bit about doing it for Gareth who had indicated he wanted to carry on in his job, so that he could learn from the World Cup experience, and rebuild shattered morale. The ‘ decisive decision’ might have been what was best for Gareth, but he hadn’t quite reacted as decisively as the WRU officials. Maybe that’s it.

The official action is not without some justification. The team did not seem particularly well prepared for the violence and commitment of the Fijians. Jenkins had earned himself some wriggle-room after a poor set of performances of the team on his watch, and had asked to be judged on the team’s performance at the World Cup. Other voices were already calling for his resignation.

But maybe there’s something else. It was the manner of the statement. If this was the annoucement of a religious-type act of atonement, a sacred execution, it would have been better carried out by high priests, themselves of stainless reputation. (Yes, the ‘football as religion’ idea has more than surface credibility).


Cultural theorists and psychologists talk about the nature of scapegoating. How under times of fear and uncertainty, the veneer of rationality disappears. Problem-solving becomes a matter of denial. One indicator is a tendency to avoid close examination of one’s own responsibility for the emerging situation.

The once-popular transactional analysis captured it as Games People Play

Among the mind games I was taught to recognize included NLWYMMD and NIGYSOB. ‘Now look what you’ve made me do’, and ‘Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch’.

Sorry Gareth, but you did force us to do this, with your pledge to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The statements on behalf of the WRU just reminded me to much of those old catch-phrases. If events continue to threaten the competence of the WRU leaders, there may well’ have to be some more sacrifices ‘for the good of those led away’

The urge to be seen to act decisively seems to be found as much in those who panic, as among those rare leaders who see they have reached a time when decisive action is needed.

Strange how I can’t get those other events in Burma completely out of my mind. The Generals and their ‘explanations’ of the steps needed to protect the people from dissidents and false leaders. Situations when the sacrifices have been literal not metaphoric in nature.