Anti-racism drive fades from memory as rugby rumbles on
A fantastic opportunity missed, in our opinion, as rugby moves relentlessly on.
Leinster and Ulster faced off in the Guinness PRO14 final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, this evening, but something was missing.
When the league returned, on the weekend of August 22-23, after the pandemic-enforced pause in the 2020/21 season, all the teams got behind plans for a moments silence - to remember those lost to Covid-19 - and a pre-match gesture under the #RugbyAgainstRacism campaign.
Before Connacht faced Ulster, on August 23, Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler took a knee in the middle of a circle of their teammates and opponents.
While several Premiership sides, in England, opted for their own anti-racism gestures and shows of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the PRO14 offering was unified, if not the most impactful. Still, rugby was sending out the message that it would not stand for racism.
It is a shame, then, that #RugbyAgainstRacism disappeared - from the pitches and our TV screens - after just one round of games. Teams standing side-by-side, in solidarity, and all the messaging was dropped the following weekend (round 15) and was nowhere to be seen before the semi-finals or at this evening's final between the two Irish provinces.
Instead, what we got this evening was the lights being dimmed and music welcoming both sides onto the pitch. There was no moments' silence and no anti-racism gestures.
Leading into the Guinness PRO14 knock-out stages, we approached the league and Rugby Players Ireland about possible pre-game gestures or signage for the semis and final. A PRO14 spokesman stated:
'The anti-racism gestures were for the returning weekend. Further work in this area will be led via tournament messaging and other projects we are overseeing.'
A spokesperson from Rugby Players Ireland commented:
'Rugby teams, event organisers, unions and players came together to support the global conversation on racism through a #RugbyAgainstRacism campaign. We believe that the co-ordination of this on the opening weekend of the return to rugby in the PRO14 delivered another powerful reminder that there is no place for racism in our sport, or in any aspect of society.
'In addition to this powerful visual representation, at a time that would deliver the most impact, Rugby Players Ireland and the IRFU are collectively committed to looking at organisations that operate in this area to ensure that we continue to provide an environment that is open to everyone who wishes to play, coach or volunteer within our sport.'
The line 'at a time that would deliver the most impact' does jump out there. Surely a strong message being sent out against racism before a highly anticipated final between two strong sides - stacked with internationals - would have reached an awful lot too.
The competition had reached its' big final and was keen to get on with the business on hand. There was no time for sentimentality or activism. Mores the shame too.