Sunday, 28 February 2010

Something Missing from the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olypics have been very easy to miss if you live in Australia. Everything is on in the middle of the day when most people are at work and the sports themselves are at best worth watching for the crashes only or at worst are incomprehesibly foreign from anything Australians do (because Australians do things at the beach in summer). Clearly something is missing to entice Australians to watch and that thing is Rugby Union.

Not only are Australians not watching live Winter Olympics we're not watching the not very amusing (where are Roy and HG when you need them?) highlights package each night. And why would you? The nature of sport is that it should be watched live - watching replayed sport is like re-wearing underwear - you know that technically it will do the job but there's just something inherently wrong about it.

So it was while watching the men's team jumping from the big hill one evening while wearing day-old undies and wondering why they award points for style when surely it's whoever jumps furthest wins that the Rolling Maul realised that if Rugby is a winter sport why is it in the Summer Olympics?

Sure it's 'only' sevens but even sevens tournaments are played during the World's regular Rugby seasons and they are almost without exception not in Summer (though admittedly Rugby seasons are becoming increasingly longer and winter is getting possibly warmer due to the effects of climate change).

It makes sense that soccer is in the Summer Olympics as soccer is a summer sport, certainly it is in Australia while in much of the world it's pretty much played all year. At the Summer Olympics Rugby will have to compete with soccer for the attention of 'football' (as in all of the codes) enthusiasts. Meanwhile in the Winter Olympics of 84 gold medals awarded to date only five have been won by major Rugby playing nations (France - 2, Australia - 2, Great Britain - 1).

So if the IOC want to increase worldwide interest in the Winter Olympics by introducing new sports that have a more universal appeal (and they do - snowboarding and short track speed skating are very new to the Olympics) then Rugby is an obvious match.

Similarly if the IRB are looking to increase interest in Rugby worldwide by including it in the Olympics program then surely the Winter Olympics offer the 'clean air' that the Summer Olympics could never provide.

But what about the frozen Rugby grounds under two feet of snow you ask? Well Rugby is a reasonably popular sport in Canada with an impressive World Cup heritage. Surely the locals either play on grounds largely free of snow or they are playing in snow and if they are so what. The Rolling Maul has seen Rugby played under a foot of water (Sydney Uni vs Easts in 2007) so a foot of snow should be a breeze. Hypothermia could be a problem on particularly bad days but any player in risk of frostbite simply isn't working hard enough (a suitable punishment perhaps for a winger not willing to get involved and mess up his hair).

In any case for most of this Winter Olympics the problems on the mountains has been not enough snow while it hasn't snowed in Vancouver at all.

So as another ski jumper gets penalised for being too skinny (which is as ridiculous as penalising a basketballer for being too tall) it is abundantly clear that the Winter Olympics needs Rugby as much as Rugby needs the Winter Olympics.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Invictus - Nice Movie, Shame About the Rugby

The Rolling Maul made a rare trip to the cinema last week, so in an effort to inspire some enthusiasm for the forthcoming Rugby season decided to see Invictus. As a movie going experience the evening rated four stars (any night out without the Junior Mauls is going to score highly) but as a Rugby experience barely two.

For those who aren't aware of the film it's about Nelson Mandela's love of Rugby (or perhaps Morgan Freeman's love of Nelson Mandela) and how it totally consumed his every waking hour from the moment he was incarcerated on Robbin Island up until Franciois Pienaar lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 1995. Or so you'd think if Invictus was any guide.

Indeed if Invictus is any guide you'd believe that the Springboks rose from bickering and thrashings to triumph over adversity for starters and the invincible Jonah Lomu All Blacks with no help at all courtesy of any food poisoning from any waitresses or as an inadvertent result of any other South African hospitality.

All the Springbok inspiration came from Nelson Mandela and a bus trip to Soweto where the local black kids embraced the white players and as a result the whole nation supported their 'journey'. These days of course the local black kids probably run for cover when yet another busload of Rugby players or cricketers descend on their township. "If it's Monday then it must be another bloody sporting team coming to show us how generous and sympathetic they are and to inspire us to be Springboks" they might say. Well it's worked so far!

But if the story line of Invictus is hard to swallow the story telling is just as unpalatable. The Rolling Maul should have anticipated it but Invictus is directed by Clint Eastwood so the writing was on the wall that this would be cliched stereotypical macho posturing nonsense with a flag waving feel good ending. This after all is the director of Million Dollar Baby, Flags of out Fathers and Gran Torino; each one a film designed to make Americans feel good about themselves and prove the great American Dream.

Invictus is the same dream just a different country but it's a story by Americans for Americans starring Americans with appalling accents (Matt Damon's Francois Pienaar accent ranges from Australian to gibberish and back again).

It's apparent too that Client Eastwood knows nothing about Rugby and while he's to be commended for a 6 minute sequence of a rolling maul is there some reason why the players need to sound like wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti? Why the nature documentary soundtrack when the normal noise of two straining forward packs is just as awe inspiring and attractive?

At least the players on the field are actual Rugby players (mostly - probably - maybe not) but it's not Rugby they're playing, more some odd schoolboy Rugby, touch football, soccer, grid iron combination with dubious player movements and nonsensical mysterious refereeing. So a bit like the Six Nations really.