The Rugby World Cup ended in London last Saturday. New Zealand’s All Blacks retained the trophy they won four years ago, the first team to do so, after beating their neighbours and rivals, Australia by 34 points to 17.
Don’t be deceived by the All Blacks tag. They are not black or of African descent. It is only their uniform. Even the teams from Africa – South Africa and Namibia – didn’t have much black about them.
The nearest to an all blacks team are the teams from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. I suppose these counties are as strange to most Rwandans as the game itself.
Rugby football is a gruelling and bruising sport where brute force and raw power are often on display. And for the uninitiated, the sight of big, heavy and menacing men, pushing and shoving to get hold of a misshapen ball and run against their opponents in order to score might indeed appear violent.
However, it is not all brawn. There is a lot of brain, too, and sleek skills and method to go with it. All of which were in abundance in England for the duration of the World Cup.
For a month and a half we were entertained to a great sporting spectacle, with all the upsets and disappointments, none greater than the hosts England being knocked out in the preliminary matches.
I am probably not making sense to most Rwandans for whom rugby is at best a curious sport or totally unknown to them. There is a small, and growing, group of enthusiasts, though. And as we open more to the world, it will not be long before rugby ranks among the popular sports in this country.
But it is not for this that I wish to draw attention to rugby. It is more for its uniqueness and morality, and the important lessons on human behaviour, particularly for those who have more power or strength.
First, rugby is perhaps the most perfect team game. You play as a pack, attack as a pack, defend as a pack. No showmanship, selfishness or super egos. Because of this there are no special players given to tantrums or any other spoilt behaviour because a ball has not been passed to them or something.
Of course there is individual brilliance, but even that depends for its effectiveness on the industry and cohesion of the whole. The game offers a classic case of one for all and all for one mindset. You learn to be fearless as an individual in the service of the team.
Second, despite its apparent brutality, rugby is one of the most disciplined games in which fair play is as important as winning. Players are among the most obedient.
The referee’s word is rarely questioned and punishment for infringement of the rules is taken without complaint. It is humbling to see a bulky man, obviously chastised for letting his team down, walk off the field with so much humility when a much smaller referee shows him a yellow card.
It is so different from what we see in, say, association football (aka soccer). Players, unhappy with a decision or seeking to influence his decision surround the referee and sometimes even punch him.
An offending player, instead of accepting his punishment pleads, argues and threatens the man who is supposed to enforce the rules of fair play.
In rugby, you seldom see any of the 100kg plus men of compact muscle descend on each other with blows or kicks, even when provoked. It is crucial to be in full control of self.
You can’t say that of American football or ice hockey, for instance, in which fights among players seem to be part of the game. Similarly, you can’t imagine a Diego Costa, Wayne Rooney or Roy Keane playing rugby and meekly accepting punishment.
The point here is that sport is a contest like any other, with rules which must be obeyed and applied equally and fairly. Fair play requires people to play according to the rules.
It means they must respect the arbiter put there to ensure no one has undue advantage over others.
In a broader sense, where people are involved in any sort of contest or dispute, whether as individuals or nations, might can only be used for right. Brute force is only for the bully.
Third, in a game of rugby the vanquished accept defeat and, although they are obviously hurting, mount a guard of honour for the victors. The latter reciprocate and show the losers similar respect, and applaud them as they leave the field. Later they meet to party.
Again, the point is that people must learn to accept the outcome of a fair contest. When you agree to take part in a contest, you must be prepared for victory or defeat. Whatever the result, there is life after a contest.
Finally, there is a lesson for Rwanda as we prepare to host the African Championship of Nations (CHAN). Sport is an entertaining spectacle whether your team is winning or not.
It is a lot more entertaining when the stadium is full of spectators. Now, the tendency in Africa is to turn up only when your team is playing and stay away altogether when it has been eliminated.
Fans in England kept filling the stadium even after England was knocked out of the Rugby World Cup. It would be a shame if Rwandan fans stop going to watch CHAN matches if our team (God forbid) should be knocked out early. Spare a thought for the footballers. No one wants to play to empty stands.
I thought I should share a few thoughts on civilised contest.