By obsessing over beating England we’re just beating ourselves

Ifan Morgan Jones

So that try should have stood, according to World Rugby. Wales should have won 12-13 and beaten England at Twickenham.

So what? At the end of the day, the success and failure of the Wales Rugby team has nothing to do with the success and failure of Wales.

International rugby is a game with random rules and seemingly random interpretations of them by the referees.

National teams aren’t even ‘national’, really. Both coaches and a good number of the players, including England’s captain and Wales’ almost try-scorer, were Antipodeans.

We might as well invest all our national pride in the throwing of a coin. Heads, Wales win, tails, England win. Tails! Damn, I really thought we had them this year.

This wouldn’t be a problem if rugby – and in particular, beating England in the rugby – wasn’t the ultimate expression of Welsh national self-fulfilment. It’s bizarre, to say the least.

Yes, I admit, I do love rugby, and supporting Wales is fun. It does bring with it a sense of camaraderie and belonging that can contribute to a national identity.

But it seems that Welsh rugby has become not a contributor to Welsh national identity, as it should be, but a stand-in for it. A replacement, even.

And win or lose, we’re losers. Because while we’re all cursing the TMO the real problems facing our country are ignored.

‘As long as we beat the English, we don’t care,’ goes the Stereophonics song. And unfortunately, the list of things we don’t care about is a long one.

Problems like a failing health service and education system, the poorest communities in the UK, and a ‘national parliament’ that doesn’t seem to care what we think.

Slumber

So why do we get so wound up about the rugby but are happy to wallow in apathy when it comes to the national problems that really matter?

Perhaps it’s just easier. It’s easy to paint England and Eddie Jones as the villains (and he’s happy to play the panto baddie, to be fair to him).

But realising that we’re at fault for our own national problems and need to sort them out is more complicated.

I think broadcasters and journalists more broadly also have a part to play. At the end of the day, if you tell people something is important often enough they tend to believe you.

The slumbering dragon of Welsh national pride is prodded awake at Six Nations’ time by a constant barrage of coverage by the BBC, Western Mail and UK media.

The annual national arousement is all the more perplexing because Wales isn’t really a country all that bothered about the rugby. The taverns and stadiums are heaving with people who haven’t even watched a match since the last tournament.

And once the Six Nations fever dies down, the Welsh dragon is allowed to slumber once more. Not even the Welsh football team – unless they qualify for a major tournament – can awake it.

Meanwhile, the issues that actually govern our day-to-day lives in this country are largely ignored.

TV and radio coverage of political issues concerning Wales are either on so close to midnight or so early on a Sunday that only the hardcore political anoraks watch them.

The politics news is so far down WalesOnline’s news page you finger will ache by the time you’ve scrolled to it.

OK, not everyone is interested in Westminster politics, either. But they do hear about it, whether they make a conscious effort to or not, because broadcasters and journalists know that these things are important.

Here in Wales, by accident or design – and the obsession with the Six Nations may have more to do with broadcasting rights than anything else – we’ve got our priorities all wrong.

Wales will win its ultimate victory when it stops considering beating England in a minor sport as the benchmark of its success.

Beating England’s health service, its education system, and its economy might be something to crow about.

But better still would be to forget about the ‘The Old Enemy’ completely and take pride in Wales because it’s the best damn country we can make it.

Now that would be something no TMO replay could take away from us.

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18 Comments

  1. Diolch! Excellent article.

  2. Double diolch, from the West of the Big Pond. Excellent language for excellent topics to consider.

  3. Richard Perkins

    Rugby in Wales is a bit like like the carnival in Brazil;alright in moderation but something that excites and distracts from all the dire serious problems. To beat England at rugby becomes almost sufficient compensation for being the poorest part of North West Europe. Losing to them confirms them as our betters,often polishing the chip. Making too much of international rugby helps to lock Wales into sycophantic acquiescence in an unsatisfactory political union that disadvantages it enormously.

  4. This is absolutely right. The next question is this. How have we come to the point that, for so many of us, the only comfortable avenue for expressing our pride in and support for our nation and its present and future is through sport?

  5. Hit the nail on the head.

  6. Couldn’t agree less with this one. The assumption seems to be that if you take away this rugby inspired patriotism then people will shift to thinking about the things that really matter. Why would that happen?

    There seems to be an assumption that we divert all our attention to things like this and that somehow subdues a more important sense of patriotism and want for things like independence etc. In my mind, if rugby and other sporting inspired patriotism is lost, then nothing as powerful is ever remotely likely to replace it.

    I recall the criticisms of hymn singing at games in the 70s and 80s. People were criticised for singing hymns in sporting events, but never setting foot in a chapel. Well those critics would be delighted now that hymn singing has almost stopped, but did it lead to a rise in chapel going?.

    Of course it didn’t and trying to throw a damp squid on anything that makes us proud is simply daft

    • It’s not an ‘either…or’ situation, Trailorboy. Nobody would seriously want to terminate the high media profile of what is Wales’s national sport, and you’re right, to do so wouldn’t lead to a national search for a more important replacement as a focus of Welsh passions. To achieve the same kind of passion for solving Wales’s problems that Ifan would like to see, Welsh politics needs a higher media profile than just blogs like this one, or Jac o’ the North, to generate that passion – important though these sites are. The British media (including the Welsh regional rags) will never consider getting on board. Wales’s needs its own crusading homegrown mainstream media to supplement the blogs; Welsh people need to get angry when they read their newspaper over breakfast, and not just angry over ‘that try’.

      • I agree it’s not “either…or” and that was my point. The article was written as though we were obsessing too much about rugby and beating England.

        I just think, rather than questioning the things that we do that make us proud of being welsh, we should be be looking for new things that can add to them. We always seem to question all the good things as if attacking them will somehow fix everything – “not another dragon etc” or how we’re portrayed with welsh costumes and daffodils. All of those things are good things – attacking them isn’t going to somehow make everything better and it shows a lack of ability to invent anything else new, that we waste time decrying all the stuff that obviously has worked in the past and will continue to work going forward.

        We need more new ideas for sure, not less. Condemning everything else that’s gone before is simply daft in my mind – we do it perhaps simply because those things are very easy things to blame, much easier than coming up with other, additional new things that can light a spark.

  7. CambroUiDunlainge

    Where to start…

    I think its a middle class view to look down your nose at the patriotism surrounding sporting events. Who are we to criticise how others express their national identity? Because lets be honest that’s only going to piss people off. Media is to blame… but there’s no audience for the things that you rightly say do matter. This is the entire problem with the movement. We’re not building an audience but providing alternate shows for the same audience over and over… Plaid Cymru (and I say this because they are the current political voice) are pretty much busking in the street thinking one day they’re going to get a crowd. It’s not the peoples fault if they don’t like the tune that’s being played – but Plaid hasn’t got an interest in playing the songs it knows people like. It wants to do its own thing. But worst of all… we know it can sing the songs people like and sometimes when they’re desperate we see that… until they ain’t so desperate anymore.

    So sports fans are an untapped resource – an audience waiting to have their attention held. Look at Alex Salmond waving the Saltire behind David Cameron’s head… that’s the kind of thing people want to see. Its ballsy – it gets the nasty papers pants in a twist. It’s leading from the front. Generating controversy and gaining attention to the cause. I don’t see that in Plaid. Not since the “Mrs. Windsor” comment – ballsy even if it was Republican and nothing to do with Welsh nationalism.

    So yeah point is you need to get peoples attention. Softly softly won’t do it. Softly softly will not be able to survive the trials of this nation becoming independent. Sports have immense value in bringing our country together… and what we need to do is get on the WRU about all these soldiers at games and get those fucking feathers off those shirts. Use it to emphasise a greater point.

  8. “International rugby is a game with random rules and seemingly random interpretations of them by the referees.”

    Oh dear – really scraping the barrel on this one.

    When will you realise that churning out spurious gibberish about one thing, in an attempt to make your case for something else, just makes you look irrational and childish?

    “National teams aren’t even ‘national’, really. Both coaches and a good number of the players, including England’s captain and Wales’ almost try-scorer, were Antipodeans.”

    There are global rules that decide who you can play for because in a modern world people move around. You’ve obviously got your head so far up your own arse you couldn’t read them in the dark.

    “The taverns and stadiums are heaving with people who haven’t even watched a match since the last tournament.”

    You do, of course, have the statistics to back up that remark?
    Or shall we just accept that you just made that bit up in a sad attempt to justify the privious bullshit?

  9. A wonderful example of how NOT to win friends and influence people.

    First start with a little rant that shows the author’s complete ignorance of the game, the rules and cultural importance of rugby, then try to persuade the reader that you have a valid political opinion.

    If you spend half the article talking rubbish about one thing nobody is going to believe you have a coherent message about the other.

  10. Gwylon Phillips

    Erthygl ardderchog. Rydw i bellach yn casáu wythnos cyn y gêm. Mae pwyslais BBC Cymru ar rygbi neu pêl-droed Abertawe yn gwbwl afresymol. Rwyn hoff iawn o rygbi ond nid y pundits sy’n cynyddu pob tymor a does dim ffydd gen i yn URC sy’n griw o unigolion sy’n glwm i’r sefydliad Prydeinig.

  11. The Six nations tournament clashes with St David’s day – and it is also a time when Marie Curie cancer charity launch a daffodil appeal – It can be hard to find out who is genuinely celebrating Wales’s national day. As the 1st of March is not officially recognised as a public holiday – It is buried by sport and charity.

  12. Whilst I do agree, I can also see why rugby has become the vehicle of national pride. Sports, like politics, involve picking a side. Picking a side in rugby is not only a binary choice (this team or that team) but it’s a no-brainer – you pick Wales, you can’t go wrong. Politics has endless variables, is highly nuanced and, most importantly, you have to spend quite a lot of time thinking, assessing and weighing pros and cons in order to make an informed choice. This takes time and effort, you also find that the more you start to ‘care’ about politics the more it affects your life – anger, frustration and helplessness become all too familiar emotions. Most people don’t want that, it makes their already difficult lives even more difficult. In short, it can feel like it’s spoiling your life. So the best thing to do is to not get involved. Sure, nothing actually spoils your life more than political indifference or ignorance, but living with the consequences of political indifference and ignorance is (apparently) easier than living with politics itself: the nuances, the seemingly endless points of view, the competing policies, the spin, the lies, the disasters and the theatre of unpleasant characters. It might seem that ‘choosing Wales’ politically is also very straightforward, but when all political parties claim to be representing the best interests of Wales, it isn’t a binary choice, getting at any sort of ‘truth’ is hard work! In rugby there is just one national team, there is no ambiguity, everyone agrees that it is the one and only team that represents ‘us’…. every single one of us. There aren’t other teams claiming to represent us, we don’t actually have to make a choice. If we really want to understand why national sports teams procure a level of unwavering support that our politicians can only dream of, we only have to imagine a scenario where our national team behaved, on the pitch, like our politicians behave in public life – back stabbing, passing the ball to the other side, teammates taking each other to tribunals, bullying and harassing each other on social media, making endless allegations against each other and generally behaving in a way that benefits them individually, rather than the team. In such a scenario, it is difficult to imagine that the national team would have the same level of unanimous support that it currently enjoys. A rugby team has no opinion on immigration, is indifferent to EU membership, it doesn’t run the NHS and it has no opinion on Welsh independence. But perhaps most importantly, we can SEE how hard a rugby team fights for Wales, fights for ‘us’. We can see for ourselves (whether they win or loose) where the players’ priorities lie. We can watch the game and see that their motives are totally honourable. When a political party is able to behave that impeccably in the Welsh national interest, people will have something approaching a binary choice, they will HAVE to choose Wales or turn coat. I won’t hold my breath.

  13. I hope we lose every single game we play. Independence within 20 years.

  14. That try was kosher.

  15. Graham John Hathaway

    Is obsessing about a Wales rugby game verses England really that bad a symptom of pride in its shirt.
    Does the dragon really slumber between such games and has these internationals become a non contributor
    to the cause of identity of being Welsh. Sport has one of the greatest positive influences if you are a participant or follower, on your mind and feelings of well being. It brings competitors together to one of the greatest arenas of the world to show itheir merits of sportsmanship and skill. The greatest moments of bravery, skill, pride, comradeship and team work on display in a National shirt. Characteristics you can identity with as those you wish to emulate, or admire. A moment you can identity with being Welsh. And proud.

    No I don’t agree Ifan. This may be one of the few moments many get to sing the National anthem together and hear our mother tongue. Young, old male, female, status, religion, politics, where you live or your beliefs . None matter. We are for that moment a one Nation, linking arms in unity.

    I think the ones who obsess are those frustrated at the stagnant nature of progress of ‘Welshness’ in other aspects of life besides the odd sporting occasions. Now that is worthy of exploring and the answers may not altogether reflect well on the elitist and intelligencia of the major figures in Welsh politics and society. Look elswhere I suggest.

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