by Johnny McNeill – unpublished author of ‘Gaslighting Gilligan‘ (released via Berlin on 25th June 2017)
Outline: Whilst the rugby culture tends to transcend politics, occasionally it becomes unavoidably embroiled in it whether we like it or not. The British brand and indeed identity, cannot be permitted to pick which ‘mask’ it chooses to wear externally to suit a world sporting occasion, whilst internally it takes the increasingly xenophobic, isolationist path it is on. A path which not only ignores the Scots and Northern Irish voices who expressed their democratic will to stay in the EU, but has since become the UK Government’s stated intent to end Devolution and with it, direct democracy in Scotland and Wales through the Internal Market Act 2020. In such anti-democratic circumstances the British brand is not a unified entity but an archaic, quasi-colonial construct in the process of overwriting our democracy and identity. Therefore It cannot expect to be represented on the global stage by Scots, Welsh and Irish players, nor indeed by English players who hold true to rugby values, as well as egalitarian and democratic values; and as such are also asked to show their solidarity and support for their Celt-nation counterparts by collectively boycotting the British & Irish Lions Tour of South Africa 2021…
As I write this the British & Irish Lions 2021 tour to South Africa is still going ahead despite the pandemic. And so this is an open letter to each of the respective four nations rugby boards of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England, and to all of their coaches, current and retired professional and amateur players, clubs and fans. (Please share this letter with each other).
“It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.” Nelson Mandela
Rugby, the game we love, comes with a convention that has (rightly or wrongly), generally kept politics at arms length. This appeared to be all well and good for the most part, however we all find ourselves in a time when the “We don’t do politics” approach is no longer acceptable – when clearly – politics is ‘doing us’. Because just as everyone else is being affected by current events, like it or not, rugby cannot and does not exist in a ‘Pollyanna’ vacuum free from political consequences; for which history will judge us on our actions, as well as inaction.
Rarely does rugby become politicised, until that is, a greater moral or ethical imperative has to take precedence over the game itself brought about by inescapable social, political and certainly as we’re witnessing today – by ideological developments. We’re living in that moment.
This, I assume, is why some PR marketing members at the corporate and board level of the game (as has football) have actively politicised rugby at both club level and on the international stage by promoting LGBT equality and ‘Rugby Against Racism’ initiatives; my point being that those fans and players who still believe rugby should be ‘above politics’ aren’t paying attention to reality. Indeed some occasionally conflate this convention of being ‘above politics‘ to incorrectly assume for themselves a perceived, personal ‘elevated‘ moral-standing – simply for failing to engage, participate and moreover – for failing to encourage and enable others to communicate our inescapable political reality.
Because it’s a reality in which the political horse has already bolted, with rugby seemingly trying to right the wrongs of the ‘past’ by wearing ‘Rainbow Laces’ and ‘taking a knee’ gestures, at a time when the British Government is led by a Prime Minister who is on record as having stated gay men are “tank-topped bum boys”, that black people are “piccaninnies” with “water-melon smiles” (which Boris Johnson subsequently dismissed as ‘satire’) and compared Muslim women wearing burqa’s to “letter-boxes” and “bank robbers”, for which he was later cleared by an ‘independent panel’ Chaired by a member of the Queens Counsel, as amplified by host of media stenographers.
And so I ask you; where could it possibly be that these incessant homophobic, sexist, racist and xenophobic attitudes occurring outside rugby stadia emanate from, to repeatedly permeate throughout UK society? It’s a rhetorical question of course, because its permeated permission comes from UK politicians themselves and through media ‘journalism’ who in turn are ‘validated’ whenever necessary by judicial and other British State structures, including the ‘structural validation‘ which takes place in its name on the sports-field.
And so this hypocrisy – which we all have a choice to condone or condemn in accordance with our individual moral values – finds itself meeting karma some 41 years after a shameful episode in Apartheid-era rugby history, when in 1980 The British Lions toured a white supremacist State. And which now in 2021, once again its a tour planned for South Africa that should prick our individual and collective conscience; not because of a racist Apartheid regime thousands of miles away but because of the increasingly racist, xenophobic British political and ‘democratic apartheid’ unfolding on these very shores.
Some might argue that the 1980 tour was ‘put right’ by not embarking on the 1986 Lions tour during Apartheid, or to “just let it go”. But history isn’t ‘history’ if the same behavioural patterns are still being repeated in the present and for which cyclical initiatives are still needed – such as those reflected in the #BlackLivesMatter protests and with players being compelled to ‘take a knee’ before each kick-off in order to ‘tackle‘ this top-down projected ignorance.
With players being used to put out fires the British State itself started, these current stadium-based initiatives are an exercise in a cyclical-futility because they deflect from those responsible; from those who are at the root-cause of this reinvigorated racism housed in political propaganda – aka Brexit. And which in essence holds sportsmen and women responsible for demonstrating to UK society at large – how we all should or could be.
All whilst ignoring the elephant in the room; which is that ‘Great Britain’ (itself a political construct and so by immutable extension so are the sportsmen and women who represent it a political promotion of the construct) not only voted for a xenophobic Brexit against Scotland’s & Northern Ireland’s wishes through sheer weight of numbers, ‘Great Britain‘ has since voted for a proven racist and bigoted Prime Minister, Cabinet and Government whose stated intent through the Internal Market Act 2020, when analysed through a prism of historical precedence, is going to end both Scotland’s and Wales democracies; to bypass and eventually, inevitably shut down Scotland’s Holyrood Parliament and The Senedd Cymru.
Just dwell on that for a moment. Think through what that will entail. We must process all of the consequences that will arise out of such an avoidable, unnecessary, insane and dictatorial action – which I don’t say lightly having served 25+ years myself (1985-2011) in the British Army with tours of Iraq and Bosnia.
But why should you listen to me? Well, you don’t. I’m just an average fan. I’d like people to listen – especially current and former players – but ultimately it’s your own conscience you need to listen to and your decision to make.
However if it helps my case – for you to listen to me – my rugby fan ‘credentials’ include being a less-than-average bit-part player in my younger days, travelling to New Zealand to see Scotland in the 2011 Rugby World Cup (even bagging a ticket for the final!) I’m a regular at Murrayfield and until the season before last was a Glasgow Warriors season ticket holder. As a Scotsman I also support Edinburgh (when they’re not playing Glasgow!) and I was privileged to be the Venue Results Manager for the Glasgow 2014 Rugby Sevens at Ibrox during the Commonwealth Games.
Remember that? The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games? That celebration of sport that took place during a historically-momentous occasion, when if anyone had said “In a few years time Britain will be on the brink of fascism” – we’d have laughed in their face.
Well here we are. And no-one is laughing. The British State is dismantling both Scots and Welsh democracy and has already reneged on The Good Friday Agreement. Therefore the British ‘State’ itself in all its guises must be dismantled via all of its remaining propaganda-capitalising constructs – without exception; without fear or favour; without fear of peer-pressure and status-quo conformity, or favour housed in nostalgia and misplaced sentimentality.
Listen to your conscience. Rugby cannot be allowed to distract from peace, nor supersede democracy. Indeed no sport can be a diplomacy plaster for unfolding tyranny; it’s the precedented appeasement of it. Coaches and players need to think about prioritising democracy over personal ambition. And former players now as fans all need to rethink what ‘Britishness’ really means in the 21st century; the political (and attempted cultural) erasure of the Sovereign Scots and Welsh nations, being consumed by an ideologically precedented far-right political-construct trying to pass itself off as a single ‘country‘.
Talk to each other. Speak out. If you as coaches and players can do that for all our sakes, if you set the moral example by taking an active role in opposing this tour, then there can be a time when rugby once again could help heal humanity on this troubled and troublesome tiny entitled island yearning for its nostalgic British Imperial past.
A past which has taken this ‘Global Britain‘ project beyond reason and is spiralling out of control. Don’t be a part of it. Refuse to be used as the facade of democracy and so-called ‘unity’ and in effect, refuse to be used as a ‘Stockholm-shield‘ for the anachronistic, xenophobic British brand on the global stage.
Boycott the British & Irish Lions. Thank you for listening.
“If we don’t stand up for others when they’re persecuted, we lose the right to complain when it’s done to us”. David Steinman
NB – Please feel free to copy, paste and share any of my #GaslightingGilligan pieces directly to your own social media platforms via browser url or short-links.
“Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth”. Khaled Hosseini.
‘Gaslighting Gilligan‘ by Johnny McNeill; a contemporary dystopian ‘fiction’ about the intrinsic, interconnectedness of both personal & State-political domestic abuse, was released from Berlin on 25th June 2017. It is copyright ©️ but is a *free*-to-share public-service PDF download from here. 🇬🇧🇺🇸🇨🇦🇦🇺🇳🇿