My whole family are rugby fans and one of the perks of moving to New Zealand is that I can now experience the thrill of supporting a team that wins things other than wooden spoons and certificates saying they tried hard. With this in mind what better way to spend last Saturday than at Eden Park, watching the might of the All Blacks (TM) take on Les Bleus, for the first time since that hold-your-breath-for-twenty-minutes exercise in terror that was the 2011 World Cup Final. I was looking forward to seeing the ABs on home turf for the first time (North Harbour doesn't count, sorry), and mama Glitter was keen to experience the atmosphere of a sold-out international test between two old rivals, and we chattered excitedly about how it would measure up to matches she'd been to at the Millenium Stadium and the Stade de France. She even wore her French supporters hat in the shape of a wonderfully fluffy tricolored chicken.
|photo: Paul Estcourt/The New Zealand Herald|
The rugby itself had little to commend it. The French played rugby for about an hour, the All Blacks gave just enough of a performance to justify the next round of MasterCard adverts. The crowd, however, were another matter. French supporters got abused and stared down every time they opened their mouths, the AB fans around us screamed that the referee was a motherfucking cunt when a penalty went the other way, and the inebriated good old boys in front of us decided that as Scottish people we should be supporting New Zealand and had no place chanting "Allez les Bleus" (in language that was slightly less polysyllabic) Our celebrating the French try was given short shrift indeed.
I appreciate the strength of feeling that surrounds rugby, but to tell a complete stranger they're not allowed to support a team? To yell and scream abuse at the opposition's #10 when he's about to take a penalty? Mama Glitter and I left with a nasty taste in the mouth at the level of bitterness and aggro on display by the local supporters. We felt grateful that the worst they had on us was the wearing of a comedy hat.
So I was not in the least bit surprised when I read Hannah Spyksma's open letter to the "fans" at the same match, who, when she called them out on their repeated use of homophobic slurs, replied with "If you don't like us using the word faggot then don't come to the footy - because it's just part of the game". The NZ Herald published the letter, and an article on the response it had received. The venerable Radio New Zealand's afternoon panel show also had a discussion about it, where Finlay Macdonald and Karl du Fresne agreed that while nasty language can get excessive, rugby fans "...shouldn't have to change their language just to mollify someone who might be offended".
This opinion does not seem limited to middle-aged white male columnists who like to think they can be edgy whilst simultaneously appealing to the kind of rugby fan who thinks abusing a young woman in public is acceptable. A spokeswoman for Eden Park said that it's not the job of the stadium to "be the PC Police"
And here is where the wheels come off the bullshit bus. Finlay, Karl and all the small-minded bigots that night miss the point that it's not about someone being offended. It's about someone feeling unwelcome. Threatened. To sit surrounded by people using a word that describes a fundamental part of who you are as an aggressive slur doesn't make you feel a bit peeved- it makes you feel unsafe. At risk. And to have hundreds of people sit around while you are made to feel threatened and unsafe makes you feel that should that threat be realised then nobody will step in. How are you supposed to enjoy the match when you're fearing for your own safety?
Standing up to homophobia, racism or any other kind of bigotry isn't just mindless busybodying. It's saying that making people feel threatened is not acceptable. The sooner the "PC gone mad" brigade understand that the safer I and many others will feel to be who we are, wherever we are.