Rugby’s weighty dilemma
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.’’
Children make up the biggest group of people injured playing rugby in this country.