Following in the path of professional football and cricket, rugby – and the Welsh Rugby Union, in particular – has found itself knee-deep in scandals and crises this season.
Just as in other sports, the official institutions of rugby reflect all the corruption, bigotry, and inequality of the capitalist system as a whole.
An arrogant elite amasses unprecedented wealth at the top, at the expense of those below. Allegations of sexism, racism, and homophobia abound. And similarly to the situation in football, lower-league teams face financial difficulties and existential challenges.
Ultimately, the only solution is to completely remove profit from sport, and to put fans, workers, and their communities in control.
Sexism and racism
Back in January, a BBC documentary uncovered a toxic culture of sexism at the governing body of Welsh rugby, the WRU. This was dropped like a bombshell on the eve of this year’s Six Nations tournament, revealing systematic misogyny at the highest levels of the sport.
Charlotte Wathan, former general manager of Welsh women’s rugby, highlights how she was left in tears and felt sick as a result of the treatment she faced. She consequently resigned in February last year.
Another anonymous victim notes how she contemplated suicide due to her experiences of bullying and sexism.
The documentary also noted incidents of racism and homophobia. Similarly, a recent survey by the Rugby Football Union found that discrimination and abuse plague the sport at every level.
In a cheap effort to save face, the WRU announced its intention to ban any singing of Tom Jones’ Delilah throughout the course of the Six Nations, due to the song’s problematic lyrics.
Such superficial steps only reveal the bankruptcy of the sport’s leading organisations, and their inability to genuinely tackle these problems.
Misogyny and racism aren’t born on the rugby pitch. Rather, the sexism, racism, and homophobia found in sport are a mirror image of that which pervades wider capitalist society.
It is the ruling class that is responsible for fomenting these reactionary ideas, in order to divide and distract workers.
The Tories and bosses, with the help of their media mouthpieces, are constantly whipping up a ‘culture war’ to deflect attention from the real problems that the working class faces. And from the top, these vile views seep down into the rest of society – including sport.
Even football has become an arena for this Tory culture war in recent times, with the government’s attempts to censor Gary Lineker or incite hatred against the England team backfiring on both occasions.
To eradicate bigotry in sport, therefore, we must fight the Tories and the rotten capitalist system that they represent.
Following this episode, WRU bosses soon found themselves jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Just two games into the Six Nations, to the surprise of many, a number of Welsh first-team players approached the press, threatening to go on strike for the rest of the tournament.
This followed a breakdown in contract talks between the WRU and individual Welsh regions, which stalled over budgetary restraints. This left swathes of Welsh players – at both a regional and national level – in a highly precarious position, worrying about their futures.
“I can’t apply for a mortgage, and I’m on antidepressants,” commented one anonymous player. “I’m also one big injury away from not having a job in July. Yet I’m starting for Wales every week, and the WRU is making tens of millions from international matches.”
“If there’s no money, then the people at the top need to take cuts as well,” another argued. “Why is it always the players that are hit?”
But it is precisely because sport’s ruling elites prioritise their own wealth and privileges over the interests of players and fans that Welsh rugby has found itself in this situation.
Just as with teachers, lawyers, and doctors, it is clear that capitalism can no longer provide a decent standard of living for traditionally privileged professions.
WRU bosses have managed to avoid strike action for now, by offering some concessions. These include players’ representation on the Professional Rugby Board, along with other minor contract reforms.
But this only kicks the can down the road. It is clear that deeper and more bitter clashes lie in store – especially with the Rugby World Cup around the corner.
In the final analysis, the contradiction that sits at the heart of rugby – as with every other sector of capitalist society – is the concentration of wealth and power at one end, and the increasing misery and impoverishment at the other.
Inequality and oppression is built into the capitalist system. Only by removing profit from sport can we put an end to the scandals and crises that are destroying rugby, football, cricket, and more.
This means kicking the billionaires and bosses out of sport; fighting to bring local, regional, and national teams under the control of the working class; and demanding fan, worker, and community ownership of clubs, as part of a clear socialist programme across the economy.