Rugby’s weighty dilemma

Wairarapa News - - FRONT PAGE -

Many thou­sands of par­ents will know that stab of fear, even if some of them might be loath to share it: stand­ing op­po­site their child on the rugby field is a po­ten­tial hu­man wreck­ing ball, an­other child who barely fits that de­scrip­tion, let alone the uni­form he’s given.

Those fears are well-founded, based on facts: ACC fig­ures show that, in 2016, 62,336 play­ers were in­jured; of those, 19,518 were aged 15-19 and 12,846 were un­der 10.

Those fig­ures and the faces of re­sult­ing dis­abil­ity and, yes, even death, have brought pleas from ex­perts around the coun­try and the world to stop chil­dren play­ing rugby un­til they are much older, or at least change the game so much as to ren­der it po­ten­tially un­recog­nis­able. Rugby is un­der threat. It has re­sponded with var­i­ous rules to keep kids play­ing the game, and safe, in­clud­ing re­mov­ing the tackle for the youngest chil­dren and the on­slaught of ram­pag­ing big­ger kids as they ease their way into our na­tional sport.

Weight lim­its for youth grades are now stan­dard. They are a com­mon­sense mea­sure to level the play­ing field for those kids whose tal­ent might not be matched by the in­cred­i­ble phys­i­cal prow­ess of their op­po­sites. They al­low the player to de­velop those skills while the rest of the body catches up, and the par­ents to feel com­fort­able that the safety of the child they are hand­ing over is be­ing man­aged ap­pro­pri­ately.

Wairarapa Bush has such weight lim­its in place for its youngest play­ers, but it had pro­posed to go a lit­tle fur­ther. Pos­si­bly too far.

Play­ers who are at least 10kg heav­ier than their peers have to be reg­is­tered as over the weight limit to gain dis­pen­sa­tion to play in their age-group. That must be recorded in the team sheet. Un­der pro­pos­als put for­ward and re­versed soon af­ter, they were also faced with wear­ing an arm­band (pre­vi­ously it was neon yel­low socks).

Also, there are var­i­ous re­stric­tions on what the child can do; they can play in the scrum, but not the front row, can­not take the ball off the back as aNo 8, and are not al­lowed to be used as a ‘‘bat­ter­ing ram’’. There are oth­ers.

The par­ent of an 87kg 12-yearold given dis­pen­sa­tion to play the un­der-13 grade un­der th­ese rules be­lieved the arm­band plan was dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion cer­tainly didn’t agree. Un­der the Hu­man Rights Act 1993, weight is not in­cluded as a pro­hib­ited ground for dis­crim­i­na­tion.

But we have a great deal of sym­pa­thy for both sides of this par­tic­u­lar dilemma.

The Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union is right to do all it can to en­sure all of its play­ers are kept as safe as pos­si­ble and risks mit­i­gated.

But the arm­band pro­posal was po­ten­tially de­mean­ing, and very pos­si­bly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. It could have sent the wrong mes­sage to those chil­dren keen to get off the couch and play sport in the pur­suit of a health­ier life­style.

That would make it even harder to re­verse this coun­try’s woe­ful sta­tis­tics around obe­sity and ill­ness. Ul­ti­mately, com­mon sense must pre­vail to not sin­gle out th­ese kids but also to pro­tect their smaller play­ing part­ners. Wairarapa farm­ers Vern Brasell and Ai­dan Bichan have been cho­sen by DairyNZ to be Cli­mate Change Am­bas­sadors.

They are two of 15 dairy farm­ers who will be cham­pi­oning the cli­mate change cause as part of the Dairy Ac­tion for Cli­mate Change, a com­mit­ment by the dairy sec­tor to help farm­ers un­der­stand cli­mate change and the en­vi­ron­men­tal mit­i­ga­tions they can un­der­take on their farms right now to re­duce their emis­sions.

‘‘Vern and Ai­dan run their farm prof­itably and sus­tain­ably with spe­cific mit­i­ga­tion ini­tia­tives in place to re­duce their green­house gas emis­sions,’’ says DairyNZ chief ex­ec­u­tive TimMackle.

‘‘They have es­tab­lished a wet­land which re­duces their farm’s, and the sur­round­ing farms’, ni­trate leach­ing while also re­duc­ing ni­trous ox­ide emis­sions. They have planted trees on the non­pro­duc­tive parts of their farms which are se­ques­ter­ing car­bon.

He said they were farm­ing lead­ers who would share their knowl­edge with oth­ers.

Brasell and Bichan are part­ners in a 900 cow win­ter milk farmin SouthWairarapa. The busi­ness has a fo­cus on be­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal leader.

‘‘This is our chance to make a dif­fer­ence at a com­mu­nity level,’’ says Brasell.

‘‘We know theWairarapa has be­come one de­gree warmer and 13 per­cent drier in the last 87 years and ex­treme weather events are pre­dicted to be­come more com­mon.’’

PHIL WAL­TER/GETTY IMAGES

Chil­dren make up the big­gest group of peo­ple in­jured play­ing rugby in this coun­try.

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