Paul Lewis: Sex and sport are inextricably linked

By Paul Lewis

Rugby's off-field rules are simple: behave, because every passerby is a potential video director; every mobile phone is a potential expose waiting to happen.

Exalted positions are no protection. Just the other day, Wales and Lions coach Warren Gatland proclaimed Aaron Smith as the best rugby player in the world. Not long after, in the disabled loo at Christchurch airport, Smith showed he was also a different kind of player.

There's already been far too much shrill moralising after the Smith love-in-a-loo thing, with familiar and predictable outpourings from both sides of the moral divide.

One lot are rabid about the 'unfairness' of it all - how, if Smith wasn't an All Black (a premise mindlessly ignoring the fact he is...), the incident wouldn't have seen the light of day. Others blame the media and even the irritated couple waiting for the loo who noticed the activity and recorded it.

Yet nothing would have happened if Smith and his friend had not gone into the disabled loo for 10 minutes of rumpy-pumpy.

Also present in the outraged-for-Smith brigade are diehards who cling to the notion it's all just young men on tour sowing their wild oats willy-nilly (pun intended). They seem to think, bless them, the old days of "what goes on tour, stays on tour" are still alive and well in spite of overwhelming evidence it isn't and that the internet era has changed everything.

Sex and touring sportspeople are inextricably linked. It has always been thus. The heroes of yesteryear will attest to this privately; the big difference is there were no mobile phones, no Facebook, no Snapchat, no Instagram.

I know of netball teams where the behaviour has been every bit as bad. One prominent New Zealand Olympian once told me that, though single, he often wore a wedding ring as it intensified the efforts of many women to bed him. And why do you think, before every Olympics, there is always a story about how many gazillion condoms are being shipped to the athletes' village? They ain't using them for water bombs...

The other side of the moral outrage blames Smith for undermining his status as a role model and an All Black, who have themselves instituted protocols for behaviour that go way past 'role model' in terms of expectations. They are their own harshest judges these days.

Perhaps the most insightful and poignant comment came from Brooke Daji, former wife of former All Black Luke McAlister. She left him after discovering he'd cheated on her but noted some women propositioned him even in front of her.

On the highly overheated sexual pressure-cooker of being an All Black, she said: "Girls act crazy when it comes to famous boys... There's temptation out there for everybody but for those boys it's so much more heightened. People say you shouldn't cheat on your partner anyway but they are not faced with the temptations those boys are faced with and I've seen it first-hand."

Even that doesn't obscure the central theme running through all of this: dumbness.

The Chiefs were dumb hiring a stripper; Chiefs management were dumb in their handling of the crisis; New Zealand Rugby were dumb not submitting the whole thing to an independent inquiry so their own efforts didn't look so much like a cover-up.

Wellington Rugby were dumb in that they didn't know about the Losi Filipo details before that wave of public outrage broke over their heads. Smith was dumb - he's already lost one girlfriend to his sexual dalliance with someone else and he was dumb to share a naked selfie on Snapchat. His latest error makes him look like someone who needs a GPS to find his own backside.

Rugby has come a long way from the bad old days when boys were boys and women were chattels. Big efforts have been made in terms of player education and attitudes. But it often seems the older guys have responded best. The message may not be getting through to some younger blokes.

Whether that's because this is the age of Tinder, sexting, naked selfies, unfettered pornography and other de-sensitising influences is not clear. But it's plain rugby's masters need to drop the old communications values of cover-it-up-and-spin-everything.

Improved transparency and the art of tending troubled players are badly needed. Even more importantly, NZR need to probe far deeper into the psychological reasons persuading someone like Smith to do the Disabled Toilet Dirty when he must have known the team and social boundaries and potential dangers.

They need to investigate why the message isn't getting through. That means more than just hiring more women and/or promoting them to the board. It needs exhaustive research into what is making these players behave like they are. Anything less would be, well, dumb.

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