All is ready for schools to start Rugby, and the first kickoff will be on 23 June according to the fixture released. However, mixed feelings fill the air as fans smell school rugby. Schools Rugby has always been an attraction for those associated with the school – present and past students.
The 12 ‘A’ Division teams will be on the field despite occasional odds that will upset them. The lower divisions will find it challenging in the present context. They have transport, playing gear costs and the cost of food to deal with. It is not an easy task to train for a physically demanding game like Rugby and be low on filling the nutrition requirements. The lower divisions are not in the same level field.
Intimately coupled with the sport is participation and fan attendance—the high demand and attendance at the T20 cricket matches confirms the thinking. Connecting participation and linked closely is affordability, which embraces the player, the fans as well as the school.
Schools rugby is associated with animated participation leading to blind and biased thinking dubbed loyalty to the old school. What happened in the now-infamous friendly between S. Thomas and Trinity is a point to ponder. Most perpetrators were former students and/or parents and relations.
As most schools do not have their grounds, the cost of hiring one is increasing. The organisers encounter increased costs. The sponsors affected by the environment cannot meet increased budget requests. The circle of flow affects all, and school rugby is no exception.
The question is whether the frustration and pressure will creep into the field and impact the future of schools Rugby?
In the present economic scenario, the cost of boots, jerseys, shorts and nourishment impact the player. The fans have to face the cost of the ticket and the escalating cost of transport – that is if you can find the petrol and diesel. It affects the player when he sees it challenging to come for practice and return home.
Is school rugby more critical of the least important things the present population faces? Unfortunately, there is more than the eye sees in the return to school rugby. A question of a fair playing field arises boldly above most others. Will the tension that prevails around the environment seep into the playing field? Awareness is more important for the progress of school rugby.
Nevertheless, it appears that sport is more appreciated than before. First, the cricket turnout is a pointer to support the argument. By the second, the participants turned to sing the chorus – slogans against the establishment. This feeling is also present among the coaches who like to see the boys on the field.
Security of match officials and a disruption-free game is what the organisers want whilst allowing schoolboys to indulge in the sport. The need for greater security is because the match official is often the focal point of releasing frustration.
However, while accepting the return of school boys to Rugby, others ask whether it is better to play for a cup or shield than to play friendly games. The reasoning is that the environment is one of hostility, whether it is the gas, petrol or another virtual queue. There is hostility at most times, buoyed by the scarce goods at a cost that is escalating.
The costs and loss of transport are significant reasons to doubt because some have access and some do not. A parent lamented the cost of playing gear. He finds it hard to buy a pair of boots for his son playing under-17 Rugby. A good product, he said, is over Rs 20,000.
While the match officials will always be in the camera lens, players too will find the pressure on them. Factions and arguments among spectators need to remain a dialogue and not turn to the use of fists. The control of the playing enclosure requires much concentration. Therefore, the Match Commissioner role will become more critical than before. The home team will have to be more vigilant and exercise more care in the organisation of security during matches. Some suggest that the governing body Sri Lanka Rugby appoint match observers for ‘A’ Division games and critically analyse and submit reports to help the school section do better in developing the game.
The most crucial point to remember is that Rugby is a popular game, and the effects should not ricochet through the game for generations. The most desirable impact on sport would come from an increased awareness of social responsibility – decision-making and ethical implications – are most important.
By Vimal Perera