Sobering problem goes wider than rugby

10:36 am on 9 September 2017

Opinion - After a horrible performance off the field last year, yesterday saw the release of the Respect and Responsibility Report by NZ Rugby into drinking culture issues in the game.

A teenager drinking beer.

Photo: 123RF

A quick counterpoint to that is that anyone who actually has been exposed to drinking culture in New Zealand knows full well that you don't need a game of rugby to happen in order to get drunk and do something stupid.

That fact is not generally in the public eye - but the 36 cases of misconduct that NZR admitted it's dealt with over the last four years often have been front-and-centre, especially in 2016.

Rugby has a drinking culture, that's not in question. I know - I've played it for most of my life and been a part of it more often than I'd like to admit.

The common consensus around why we binge-drink so much is rooted in the six o'clock closing laws from back in the day. The older blokes at the club would tell us about how you'd need to drink as fast and as much as you could in order to get the most out of the one hour after work.

That tradition got passed down through to the next generation, which is why we would drink our jugs of beer like our lives depended on it. Then the next crop of young guys would come through and learn to do the same.

That's why the most pressing solution to the factory line of drunk and disorderly conduct is to start thinking about the environment those guys are coming from.

College 1st XV rugby is, rightly or wrongly, bigger than ever at the present time. Supporters will tell you it's the cradle of the game and where our next crop of superstars hone their talent. Cynics will say it's a jacked-up promotional exercise for rich schools and, by extension, the Auckland housing market.

School games are broadcast on TV on a regular basis and the players are talked about by those in the know. It's a tricky situation for a 17 or 18 year-old to handle, given that the next few years of his life are seemingly the most important if he wants to actually make it in professional rugby.

These young men are coming straight out of school into a work environment, sometimes with no other life skills than chasing a ball around every Saturday. Put them into a workplace where binge drinking is common and it's sadly no surprise that this sort of report had to be undertaken by the union.

Again though, is it really any different to other sectors of our society? 'Affluenza' and entitlement are everywhere, and with the complete dominance of social media over our lives now it's pretty hard for anyone to get away with too much in public. Which is what makes the motivation for NZR to do this so much more clear - people are watching now, more than ever.

It became obvious last year that people aren't going to stand for the sort of things rugby players could get away with in the old days. Just having a report isn't going to fix this overnight, and it probably should've been done a while ago.

But at least it's a start.

Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the single highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game, and other topics, to anyone who'll care to listen.

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