It may be time to ditch the H-word but we must not dampen rivalries
THE TIME has come to ask an uncomfortable, polarising question, with profound ramifications for the Six Nations. Is hate a crime?
In the narrow context of this particular tournament, the answer should be ‘no’, but with a giant asterisk attached. It may be time to ditch the inflammatory H-word, which increasingly jars with modern sensitivities.
This has become a talking point again due to recent events. Without raking up something which caused a lot of upset, comments were made about Welsh hatred towards the English and it ignited a storm of protest in many quarters. There were even some sinister claims that it amounted to racism.
Let’s be clear, it is an inescapable factor which simmers throughout the Championship every year. However it is packaged and labelled, it is there. Call it antipathy and that sounds more palatable, but it is a bedrock of this event, like it or not.
One of the main reasons that fans keep coming in their tens of thousands and why ratings remain so high is that there is an endless appetite for the annual resumption of historical rivalries and hostility. Take that away and the tournament loses part of its precious soul.
In the past, ‘ antipathy’ was a means of making up for a quality deficit. The spectacle wasn’t often great, but crowds and viewers savoured the volatility of old enemies colliding.
That is no longer the case as the world’s top two teams — Ireland and France — are setting standards this year, while Scotland and Italy are both improving and entertaining, after making up the numbers for so long.
So the cross-border needle is no longer the be-all and end-all, but the masses still relish the rivalries and the angst. Netflix are filming the 2023 Championship for a documentary series and there is no doubt that all the tribal tensions are part of the box-office attraction of the tournament.
England are in the cross-hairs for all their neighbours. It was ever thus. Those in the eye of the storm talk about it in matter- of-fact terms — without a sense of grievance. When Kevin Sinfield was asked what he made of the Six Nations and the anti-England sentiment, he used the H-word freely and without any hint of
outrage. When Kyle Sinckler spoke about Welsh grannies aiming rude hand gestures at the England coach in Cardiff, he did so with a jocular tone.
Everyone who is involved knows that this is all just part of the familiar Championship tapestry. That journey into the heart of the Welsh capital is a hostile experience for England in particular, but it has been the basis for so many vivid anecdotes over the years.
Similarly, when the ‘auld enemy’ arrive at Murrayfield behind the slow-walking bagpipers, they are met by noisy, partisan passion designed to unsettle them. It is quite something to behold, even for those on the receiving end.
It would be a pity to try to douse these fires in the name of political correctness. If the police or stewards started having to eject anyone guilty of bad-mouthing the English, or any other visitors, some of the famous arenas would be near-deserted.
Nobody needs to be wildly offended by any of this and start calling it something it is not. It is just an undeniable fact of the Six Nations that the Celts want to upset the bigger neighbours who used to lord it over them and that is an engrained dimension in the complex heritage of these islands.
By all means, discourage the H-word which sits so awkwardly with the terminology clean-up which is a trend in wider society.
But please let’s allow this sporting volcano to keep rumbling and erupting, or this favoured landmark in the oval-ball landscape will turn into a bland, sanitised series of ‘ friendlies’. What an awful thought.