When is assault not assault?
Apparently when it happens on a rugby field.
On Saturday, I covered the Baywide Premier rugby match between Rotoiti and Greerton. A typically intense and fiery affair, the first half hour of the match was an entertaining tussle.
Unfortunately, all the momentum was lost when an ugly brawl broke out.
A Rotoiti player took exception to a no arms tackle by a Greerton player, holding the player's head down and throwing uppercuts. Other players jumped in, many of whom threw punches. One Greerton player got a red card and will likely face a few weeks on the sideline while the rest of the players who threw punches got off without so much as a warning.
It's not fair to single out those teams though, it happens all the time. The maximum penalty seems to be a red card and a ban for a few games, disappointing for the offender I'm sure, but in the grand scheme of things, is that enough of a deterrent?
The long-lasting damage cause by head knocks in sport have been well documented in recent years. The brain is an important part of our make-up. If you punch someone in the wrong spot, the ultimate price for the victim could be death.
Some sports fans enjoy the added theatre of a punch-up. There has been a motto of "bring back the biff" among NRL fans for years. The television build-up to State of Origin games often includes "highlights" of some of the more notable fights in the last few decades. League is physical enough as it is, if you need more you can go to a boxing match.
It does get the adrenaline pumping but at what price? Rugby is a highly physical game, we should cheer on the big hits and barnstorming runs, but enough with the thuggery.
The maximum penalty for common assault, under the Summary Offences Act 1981 (section 9), is six months' jail or a fine of up to $4000. In more serious cases, the Crimes Act 1961 (section 196) has a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison.
So why do we let rugby players get away with it?
The rugby field is one of the most damaging places for a fight to happen. The beauty of grassroots club rugby is the family atmosphere, people bring their kids down on a Saturday afternoon and it's a nice day out.
How do we explain to those kids that what their dads, uncles, brothers, cousins are doing on the field is not okay?
I understand that people are passionate, tempers boil over and things get out of hand. However, grown men should be able to control their emotions.
There is no excuse for violence. Grow up.