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Wake up Japan, this is bigger than the Olympics

Well technically not, as it’s only the third biggest global sporting event. A mere 20 nations qualifying after an exhaustive elimination process, however, the tournament is three times longer at six-weeks and 12 venues from Hokkaido to Kyushu. The influx of foreign invaders will be the greatest since Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1853 at Shimoda.

Pools RWC2019
The four Pools of five competing for a place in the knockout series.

Perennial favourites the All Blacks from New Zealand will be looking for an unprecedented three-peat, having won the last two incarnations in 2011 & 2015. Although, Ireland will go into the tournament as World No. 1, due to the quirky World Rugby algorithm that determines placings. Never before have the ‘Men in Green’ made a RWC Final, although their Quarter-Final match against RWC1991 winners, the Wallabies, at Landsdown Road will go down as ‘the one that got away‘.

The teams descending on Japan, somewhat delayed due to Typhoon Faxai, should be embraced by the Japanese populous along with the tsunami of international supporters. Rugby people are a different breed: beer-swilling aficionados as opposed to football (soccer in the English speaking world outside of England) hooligans. They will appreciate the culture, the ceremonies, the nature and the history that abounds there; as well as the onsen or hot springs, the most renowned are found in Beppu, Kyushu; with matches played in Oita, including two very important quarter-finals, these are a must-see (map below).Beppu Area Map

Visiting Japan 12 months out from the Rugby World Cup I got a sense that the ‘general’ Japanese population were somewhat unaware of the tournament. When questioned they would reply with, “Tokyo 2020?” Just last week at a theme park on the Gold Coast some university students visiting from Japan on their summer break in Australia looked puzzled when I said I was going to Japan for the Rugby World Cup (admittedly, they were from Ibaraki Prefecture, an hour or so north of Tokyo on the Joban Line, where no matches are being played). Also in Australia, when people ask why I am going to Japan the response often is, “Do they play rugby in Japan?

Undoubtedly, when RWC2019 begins this Friday at Ajinomoto Stadium the vast majority will get on board. Not everyone is a diehard rugby fan, but when a spectacle such as the Rugby World Cup is on your doorstep you can be assured that the populous will respond and Japanese ‘omotenashi‘ (hospitality) will come to the fore. At the 2015 tournament, 25 million in Japan tuned in to watch Japan v Samoa on their television sets, so the interest is there. The other takeout from that tournament held in the UK was the 34-32 last-minute win over the Springboks by the Japanese Brave Blossoms; recreated in cinema with the just-released “Miracle in Brighton“.

CJ at Ajinomoto Stadium
CJ last year at Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo.

Rugby Union has a long history in Japan dating from 1866 in Yokohama and, while being more popular in the universities, the company based Top League has started to attract larger crowds. Unfortunately, Japan’s Super Rugby team the Sunwolves will be axed from the competition after the 2020 season, though I’m sure their company based Top League will eventually open up to international teams from Hong Kong and Perth (convincing the JRFU will be a challenge, though).

All and all this bodes well for a spectacular tournament that I am very much looking forward to attending. 楽しみですネ‼match_schedule_2019may001.jpeg

 

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Rugby in the Regions

Having returned from just over a month in North Queensland, I am buoyed by the fact that the boutique sport of rugby union in Australia is growing healthily in the regional areas of Queensland. Despite not being able to watch my beloved Queensland Reds play Super Rugby on one of Townsville’s The Ville Casino’s numerous television screens, I did encounter plenty of diehard rugby people in FNQ, none more so than my mate Severin “Bunny” Andreassen from Brothers Cairns, now the President of Brothers Juniors in Townsville. His son Jack is a rugby development officer for Townsville and District Rugby Union (TDRU) and shows a passion for the game like his father. I watched him play a spirited match for Brothers’ 1st Grade side against a strong Teachers-West at Mike Carney Toyota Park (above, where I had played myself for a Brisbane Colts v North Queensland side, back in the day).

The Ville
The Ville Casino, Townsville

Club rugby in Townsville has this year seen the merger of Western Districts with James Cook University (JCU) which Wests President, Athol Giddens, told me was a much needed shot in the arm for both clubs -especially since JCU had recently started a rugby league team. The 2019 amalgamation has provided a junior club for JCU to develop players from and proper training facilities, with lighting –far superior to Wests‘ previous locations, I was told. I watched them going through their paces at the university under the guidance of Kiwi ex-pat, Campbell Yates, whom Giddens would like to have several of. “The main issue is finding quality coaches and getting them accredited with Level 1 and 2 coaching certificates from the QRU,” Giddens said.Western Suburbs Townsville

The tyranny of distance is always an issue in the bush. However, they are rugged people up north and travelling over an hour one way for a Saturday fixture is not unheard of. Charters Towers is over an hour and a half away and they are in the Townsville competition, along with Burdekin and Ingham. Brothers Townsville are traditionally the stronghold, though lately Teachers-West has built up their ranks and have two quality backs in Curtis Rayment and Josh Fletcher. Both these local boys orchestrated Teachers’ 54-0 win over a young Brothers side, in a match where plenty of passion was on display.

During my time in Townsville, I also met Brolgas stalwart coach, John Rauch, for many lunchtime conversations at the school we were both teaching at. Originally from New South Wales, he has taken a passionate interest in the rugby scene in North Queensland over the past 30 odd years, playing for Brothers Townsville before being involved in coaching. Every two years, around Easter, Rauch takes a representative side from Townsville, under the Brolgas banner, to Japan to play select schools over there. Later this year, he will take a team from The Cathedral School to Europe for rugby union matches -another bi-annual trip he organises at his school.

The Cathedral School
The Cathedral School is a 100-year-old co-ed boarding school in Townsville.

Last week, the Queensland Junior State Championships were held at Downlands College in Toowoomba. It was great to see representative teams from all over the State, including the Brolgas from Townsville. One of my students who I had seen play in Townsville made the U13 Brolgas side which I was pretty chuffed about. Next month we see Townsville host the annual Queensland School Sport (QSS) 11-12 years rugby union championship, which bodes well for the future of our code. In a rugby league stronghold, ‘the game they play in heaven’ is in good hands.

Cowboy supporters at Dairy Farmers
The NRL Cowboys are a big deal in North Queensland

 

Fairwell to Folau

Sayonara and thanks for the memories.

In the past week there has been a tsunami of commentary about one particular player of the Qantas Wallabies team that has been quite outstanding. Never before, in rugby, have we seen the plethora of correspondence across social media from all corners of the globe. If Israel Folau was seeking attention, he certainly achieved that.

Spending a rare week-off during the Super Rugby season with his wife, Maria Folau, in New Zealand, and just like the break in April last year when he posted homophobic comments to Instagram and Twitter where he was ‘lightly’ reprimanded, Folau has repeated this indiscretion.

Almost 39,000 people have liked the post including prominent Wallaby teammates, Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa, All Blacks flanker, Vaea Fifita, English rugby No. 8, Billy Vunipola, and AFL great Gary Ablett amongst others.

For those who say the tweet was harmless, should now begin to understand the gravitas of the medium used. How many countless young South Pacific Islanders that absolutely worship Israel Folau, that are questioning there own sexuality, will respond to this latest declaration?

The Integrity Unit of Rugby Australia has concluded, “That Folau has committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment.”

In the statement yesterday, Folau has been given 48 hours to respond to the sanction or the matter will be referred to a Code of Conduct hearing.

Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle, said, “At it’s core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values.

Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as a player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations. It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.

Wallabies coach, Michael Chieka, has confirmed on Monday that he won’t pick Israel Folau again. He said, “We’ve had the discussion about it after the last time about his right to believe and our support in that…but getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly, is not what this team is about.”

We’ve had the discussion about it and the lines been crossed.

When you play in the gold jersey, we’re representing everyone in Australia -everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.

Chieka was adamant on the importance of the team but also added, “Everybody has the right to believe (in what they want) and we respect that right. We’re not moral judges and no one should be“.

The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Folau on Sunday after church in western Sydney where he said he was being persecuted for his faith.

First and foremost, I live for God now,” Folau said. “Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think.

If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.

Exactly twelve months ago, Israel Folau contributed an article to the PlayersVoice where he articulated his position after his initial foray into social media condemning homosexuals to hell.

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.”

So in the end, the boy from Minto, NSW, who played rugby league at Marsden State High School in Brisbane, will not be on the plane to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in September. A dual international for rugby league and union with a flutter at AFL in the middle will not been seen on a professional rugby field in this country wearing our National or Waratah colours.

Once again I would like to thank you for the pleasure of watching your athleticism on the field since you ran out as a young 17 year old for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL in 2007, your rugby league contributions to the Queensland State of Origin side & the Kangaroos; and especially your 62 test matches for the Wallabies. You have your convictions to the Christian faith, of which I respect, and you stand by that. You appear comfortable in your demeanor with peace in your heart.

Wishing you the best for your life in the future

CJ