Full League Express Mailbag, Monday 17th August 2020

Here are the letters that were published in this week’s Mailbag in League Express, with the Black Lives Matter ‘taking the knee’ once more figuring highly. If you would like to have a letter published in Rugby League’s leading weekly newspaper, send an email to mailbag@totalrl.com. You must include your full address and a telephone number.

It saddened me to read in last week’s Mailbag just how upset Mike, Bill, Barry and Phil were about taking the knee prior to the games.
Under the guise of keeping politics out of sport, they voiced their politics with a vengeance. What they didn’t mention was that Black Lives Matter exists mainly because of the frequent murder of black people by racist police in the USA.
This was brought to international notice with the murder of George Floyd through a police officer kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes, despite him saying that he couldn’t breathe.
This, on top of the continued racism in USA society and elsewhere in the world, made millions of people realise that all this had to stop.
To say that this does not apply to the UK is ridiculous. Racism is a major problem in the UK and we should all do what we can to eradicate it.
The deaths of Mark Duggan, Chris Alder, Yasser Yakoob and many more who have died at the hands of the police in this country is a disgrace. No police officer has ever been prosecuted successfully, despite these murders.
The racism in the police force is even more apparent when it comes to stop and search, where black people are nine times more likely to be stopped than white people. A recent example of this is the Labour MP Dawn Butler and there are hundreds of other examples.
The BAME community suffers from racial discrimination in sport, in education and in most walks of life in the UK and Black Lives Matter is an essential part of the struggle against this.
The sheer hypocrisy of supporting Israel Folau and his appalling right-wing views against an organisation which simply wants equality of opportunity for black people astonishes me.
I am proud to take the knee for Black Lives Matter.
Politics will always be part of sport, but we have to kick racism out of it completely.
Mick Calvert, Holmfirth

After forty-five years it is time for me to stop watching Rugby League.
I cannot continue watching a sport that that discriminates in any way. Super League and the RFL have shown they are right behind the Black Lives Matter movement, an organisation that shows open hostility to the country of Israel.
If that is the route the game wants to follow, it can do that without me.
D Sowden, Selby

I was disgusted to read four letters last week complaining about support in the game for Black Lives Matter, but not one speaking highly of or promoting it.

Unless Mailbag had received no such letters, publishing four clearly against something and none in favour shows bias and unfair representation. But in case you had not received any such letters I would welcome my contribution being published.
I am shocked by the number of people who call being against racism an ‘opinion’. Black Lives Matters is a movement promoting equality in all areas of life, including sport (and Rugby League, where there are still huge strides to be made). This is not an American problem brought here by ‘woke’ individuals trying to “bring politics into sport”.
Racism is not politics. It is discrimination of the highest order and should not be accepted under any circumstance.
The UK has many problems with discrimination against BAME communities. It is not an issue we should be ignoring because it is an inconvenience to our sport, or our lives. I cannot understand why some people have a problem with others being anti-discriminatory and supporting those who want equality. Kneeling pre-game is a sign of support for BAME people across all sport, the country and the world.
I have been flabbergasted at the number of comments I have seen from people who say they would “never take the knee”, and “cannot wait until this all goes away again”.
That is exactly why racism is still commonplace. We should all be fighting for equality. If you are not, ask yourself this question: “Have I ever been discriminated against because of the colour of my skin?”
If you have not, imagine being in that position and think what you would do to encourage a fair life for yourself and your family. Would you accept being discriminated against, or would you hope your community would support you?
Rugby League is a family; we should all remember that.
Tom Fisher, Bristol (formerly of Hull)

Editor’s note: For clarification, prior to last week’s issue of Mailbag we had not received a single letter in support of players ‘taking the knee’ before Super League matches.

Your UpFront column (3rd August) said Rugby League and politics do not mix, with particular reference to ‘taking the knee’ in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

That stance was shared by some of last week’s Mailbag correspondents and also by Martyn Sadler. Martyn seems to me to change his view on Rugby League and politics depending on the subject in question, if it involves politicians of whom he approves.
Let us look at a few facts.
The Rugby League World Cup 2021 is being supported by government – a political decision that was good for Rugby League so no argument there, I suspect, about the two issues not mixing.
The government has offered a loan to the game, to help clubs through the current crisis. That too is helpful and shows that Rugby League and politics do mix.
The government allowed the Super League season to restart. The government furlough scheme is helping to pay some staff wages at Rugby League clubs. These too are political decisions. Yet if the government had done nothing, I suspect the same people now criticising political involvement in the game would be up in arms.
As to ‘taking the knee’, I wonder what bubble Bill Anderson lives in. We are thankfully not the USA, but to think that racism does not exist here, or is minimal, is a blinkered view, and one reason why racism is allowed to keep poisoning our society.
Yes, Rugby League is more tolerant than some sports, but I have heard racist comments at many grounds, and a disgusting chant about incest. The statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not blindingly obvious to many, or racism would not exist.
To call ‘taking the knee’ a political gesture is, in some ways, correct, but that does not mean doing it is worthless. This issue has clearly struck a chord with thousands of people, both in this country and worldwide, and sports stars around the world take the knee for ten seconds to show support.
That should be respected, particularly by those who say we are a tolerant sport yet also say things that demonstrate the opposite.
David Wilkinson, Delamere

The dispute (within the game and in your letters page) about the rights and wrongs of players being asked to ‘take the knee’ in support of Black Lives Matter reflects poorly on our sport.
For once I am grateful that Rugby League gets so little of the national media attention it deserves, or the pictures and headlines on current sport pages would be damning.
More so than any other code of football, our game has a proud record of inclusivity, welcoming people of all ethnic backgrounds. It beggars belief that, instead of showcasing this achievement, the current actions of certain individuals and clubs should undermine it.
A word of thanks to Martyn and all League Express staff for keeping going in these challenging times.
Steve Reid, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Regrettably, there is currently a lot of hot air surrounding a debate over something that is not really about our sport.

On some rare, well-documented occasions politics and sport have mixed. South Africa and apartheid; Russia and doping. But the current issue at stake is primarily one of religious belief.
It has come into sharp relief in a number of sports with the arrival into Europe and the UK of players from many different countries. Players who have been a huge asset to Rugby League.
Such players may or may not bring with them deeply held religious beliefs that clash with the (now) largely secular climate in the UK. You can often see them praying together after a game.
Martin Offiah and Leon Pryce have both made gracious contributions, saying – in effect – that they would neither comment nor certainly, condemn, until the players themselves felt able to explain, should they wish to do so.
Quite right! It is not complicated.
Israel Folau holds to the view that the Bible is an inspired text and without error. Sonny Bill will hold the same view in relation to the Koran. Most Britons who have been through the British education system will believe that ancient texts are culturally relative to the era in which they were written. As do I.
Stoning to death and banning shellfish (Leviticus) have been abandoned, but in the recent past here, literalist Christians still had difficulty with sport on Sundays. (Exodus 20 v 10). The best example is Jonathan Edwards, the gold medal triple jumper, who has since changed his view.
I would be interested to know how Israel Folau justifies working on the Sabbath (Sunday) when that is expressly forbidden in the Ten Commandments. I suspect he may be not taking the knee because he sees it as contrary to Christianity.
Once you start picking and choosing the literalist case collapses.
Israel Folau and also Billy Vunipola (Rugby Union) hold views that cannot be sustained in the long term. Many may find them abhorrent. We can all agree, however, that the greatest Christian virtue is love, even in the toughest team game of all.
Israel Folau deserves that, every bit as much as those whose ‘taking the knee’ he rejects.
It will take time, patience and understanding, but education and our schools will do their job, as they always do.
Dennis Richards OBE, Harrogate

What on earth must Rugby League in this country look like to the outside world?
An expansion team puts the sport in the headlines around the world, taps the game into a lucrative new market then runs into financial trouble (some of it self-inflicted) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Embarrassment! Shambles! Kick them out!
Players decide to ‘take the knee’ as part of a worldwide anti-racism movement. Before the first game of the (post Covid) restart we hear Ashton Golding, Michael Lawrence and Jordan Turner on the subject, and the great Martin Offiah, but we are ‘not having it’. Political gesturing! Time to stop! Not welcome in Rugby League!
Government statistics show hate crime in the UK doubled in the five years up to 2019, but it is the ‘woke minority’ who are the problem!
Should we not actually listen to the thoughts and experiences of Ashton Golding and Martin Offiah? Try to learn something? Leave players who wish to ‘take the knee’ do as they see fit?
This outrage and vitriol does not make the Rugby League community look like an open-minded, forward-thinking group of sports fans.
According to a recent (League Express) poll, fifty-point-four-eight percent of readers do not want to see coverage of the sport’s only other fully professional league in this publication. It seems we want only the same teams, and none of the political correctness rubbish.
Falling crowds and lack of mainstream media coverage? No problem. No one likes going to that-there London anyway.
It might be time to start selling ‘Make Rugby League Great Again’ baseball caps. I reckon I could be quids in.
Simon Fox, Todmorden

Watching the Forty-Twenty programme in which Phil Caplan gave his views on Trinity not ‘taking the knee’ before the Wigan v Trinity match, I was disappointed with someone I have always thought worth listening to.
Phil started by saying something I agree with, which is that the game needs to have a debate on how to proceed, if and when players whose beliefs (religious, political or whatever) mean they have a problem with ‘taking the knee’. I agreed with Phil on this.
But a couple of minutes later he came out with the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard him say, contradicting his earlier point. There should be no debate, he said. You either kneel for something or stand for nothing. If any player did not take the knee, they should not be allowed to play.
What happened to democratic process?
To me, Phil had surrendered to the Twitter bullies, most of whom have never attended a Rugby League game. To me he had just gone back thee-hundred years. Slaves were forced to kneel in submission to their masters. Slaves were told what to do and what not to think, just as he was advocating should happen to players at a rugby club.
The photo taken at the game in question shows 13 men of different colours, races and creeds, not kneeling in submission but standing proud and strong, a human chain with arms linked together supporting their belief in racial equality.
Like the Twitter bullies, Mr Caplan saw only men not taking the knee when others chose to.
At a time when we need everyone in our game to pull together, did Mr Caplan contact the Trinity club for an explanation, or did he just fall into line with most other journalists who submit themselves to the twitter and social media bullies?
Ernest Jones, Horbury

I thought Phil Clarke’s and Brian Carney’s half-time judgement of Ben Murdoch-Masila on Sky Sports was an absolute disgrace.

They `decided’ he will get a long ban, with Clarke saying, “The referee bottled it”.
It was compared to another bad tackle by a player earlier in the season that actually bore no comparison to the tackle in question. There was no mention that the referee did not stop the game until he realised there was an injury, which indicates he saw nothing wrong with the tackle.
Trial by Sky commentators should not happen.
It does not happen in any other sport and is unprofessional and unfair.
Philip Wellings, Warrington

Can I please state my overwhelming pride in Huddersfield Giants players’ true guts and determination in their one-point defeat to Warrington Wolves on Saturday.

It was in my opinion a great game. Everyone played as a team and got stuck in wherever they were needed. With no substitutes in the last 20 minutes we bent our backs and became a team without fear.
Well done, Giants!
Peter Hughes, Flint, Flintshire.

As a passionate Hull FC pass holder for over twenty years, I have been helping the club stay afloat during these turbulent times by continuing to pay my direct debit.
I am lucky that I can afford to do this; my heart goes out to those who cannot. I am about to become a father in November and one day, if my child asks, we will be going together, though I will not be forcing the issue.
However, I believe that supporting a club should be a two-way street. We pay money to watch our heroes and the least we expect in return is a bit of heart and steel for the badge. I do not want a bunch of malingering wage-stealers as role models for my child. It sets a bad example.
You may agree or not, but here are my feelings right now about the club that I will back to the hilt as long as the players show character and determination.
1. You cannot blame fans this time for lack of atmosphere!
2. Preparation and planning are all well and good, but poor performances need to be addressed. We cannot blame lockdown and a change in the way the game is played because we were awful before it. We have had time to prepare for the rule changes and we have a squad big enough to rotate and cope.
3. Danny Houghton needs to be relieved of the captain’s armband.
4. We seem much quicker around the ruck with Jordan Johnstone.
5. It was evident in the inquest behind the posts that Danny does not have a big enough voice. You do not have to be an amazing player to be captain, but whilst I love Danny for his contribution over the years, you can see he is no longer the player he once was. Sixty tackles a match for over ten years will not have helped, although he at least seems to care when playing.
6. Before lockdown I banged the drum for a backroom clear out and possibly bringing in Shane Flanagan, a world class maverick coach who is unattached. During lockdown, my stance was ‘give Lasty a go’, as it seems pointless bringing someone new in at this stage and he is a top bloke.
With it now being evident that the players do not care, my stance has changed again.
Time is of the essence this season. Players cannot pick and choose their games, and in sport that should never happen. I love my club. As a paying customer throughout the years I praise (and grumble where appropriate) and we need to get real. Despite a large, adoring fan base we are not a big club for, you see, a big club is one that is challenging for honours consistently year on year.
We do not do that. We have a mini-period of success every other decade and then sink back into mediocrity. That should not be happening at a club with such a passionate, large fan base. It is no secret that whilst other clubs admire our set-up and enjoy the banter with our fans, they laugh at us on the quiet because we have a state of delusion among some fans. Big club status has to be earned, and not by just a couple of Challenge Cup wins here or there.
Even a mate of mine who is a dobbin (he cannot help it) says he finds the way the FC playing group have been disrespecting the badge over the last few years puzzling. I agree with him one hundred per cent.
If we want to really be known as a big club, we had better start acting like one.
John Story, Hull

I totally agree with Martyn Sadler that Toronto Wolfpack should retain their place in Super League next season.
With all other sports in North America closed down, it was inevitable that Toronto would have to follow suit.
Let us hope all hope they get the necessary funding to continue. If Rugby League fails in Toronto, Rugby Union will move in.
Michael Turner, Chorley

I found it disappointing, watching Wigan beat Wakefield last week in a tight contest, to see a questionable try by Jake Bibby help Wigan to the two points.

Rather than send tries up for the video referee to confirm or overturn, would it not be better to do what I am sure they do in the other code? Ask the video referee with sufficient evidence to make the decision?
On another note, it was great to have Leon Pryce and Jon Wilkin offering opinions on Sky Sports. They were certainly a step up from what some other pundits have offered.
It would be nice to see them involved regularly from now on.
Ollie Lewis, Crosby

Granted, the main purpose of spectator cardboard cut outs is to generate cash for the clubs, but would it be unreasonable for Sky to pan that ‘crowd’ occasionally.

C’mon Sky, join in the fun!
Dave Edgell, Warrington

As Anthony Byrne illustrated (Mailbag 3rd August), on occasion Rugby Union scrums become a source of controversy, confusion, frustration, and mockery.
Due to frequent time-consuming resets and seemingly random penalties, gaining possession through a penalty rather than backheeling the ball seems to be the primary objective.
The cause? Continuous tinkering with the rules of the scrum in attempts to address health concerns raised by the impact and weight of sixteen massive players being concentrated through the necks and shoulders of props and hookers.
And if Rugby League returned to contested scrums it would sooner or later face the same problem and have to find solutions.
Admittedly there are fewer players in a League scrum, but they are no less massive. The reason it has not become an issue is that in League we have a group hug instead of a scrum. So if you are not going to contest a scrum, why have it in the first place?
Let Union have the scrums, with their time-consuming, penalty-laden rituals and complications. Rugby League referees have enough to contend with in trying to police the play-the-ball. They do not need to be burdened with contested scrums.
Dave Williams, Southport

Recent NRL games we have watched were played in conditions ranging from wet to monsoonal (Sharks v Eels evoked memories of the Watersplash Final) but the players played the ball correctly, on pain of being penalised for sloppy attempts.

Our lockdown was the ideal opportunity for the lawmakers in Super League to tighten up on some of what we see week on week. It takes a fraction of a second for a player to regain his feet, place the ball on the ground and play it with the foot, yet some sloppy efforts here go unpunished, when even a pretence of playing the ball is tossed aside.
I thought the introduction of the ‘six again’ rule would cut down on players lying on in the tackle, but the only difference I have noticed is inconsistency in referees calling those transgressions. This is true both in the NRL, where the rule has been in force for some time, and in the few games played here, where it is still new.
It will be interesting to see whether the NRL resumes the practice of having two referees. To my mind, their games have flowed better with only one whistler, albeit backed up by better assistance from touch judges than our referees often enjoy.
I have alluded before to the fact that, despite officials now being linked by radio (and in NRL games assisted at every game by a video ref), it is sometimes not evident that the official has spotted an infringement or reported it.
The game is much faster now. With the firmer grounds and dry ball conditions we should be able to enjoy for the next few weeks (British weather willing), let’s hope things settle down and we can enjoy the game from the terraces.
Derek Golding, Hull

Your in-tray must be filled with comments on the parlous state of Toronto Wolfpack.
Circumstances for the club do seem dire.
They have also raised grumblings about Rugby League ‘belonging’ to the M62 corridor, which are spilling into words on the future place of French teams in our domestic competitions.
France at present is far from the scaremongering picture presented in the popular press, where threats of quarantines, holiday cancellations and leisure industry lockdowns are seen daily.
Notable, however, and pertinent to the continuation of the Catalan Dragons’ playing season, is the determination of the French state that the Tour de France will start as scheduled on August 29th, continue, and end in Paris three weeks later.
The declared aim of the French Sports Ministry, that high-level international competition should continue, is underlined by their backing this event (admittedly one of unique importance to the French national psyche), but support for the Catalans with either financial or logistical measures should follow.
I have no idea whether a dialogue is in progress between the French Government and the club, but I am aware of the deep impact made at official level by the Dragons winning the Challenge Cup. I can only offer an opinion in the positive.
At the time of writing, the French PM has announced that crowds of up to 5,000 will be allowed to attend major sporting events until at least the end of October. Heartening news to conclude on.
Stuart Stanton, Leeds

Since lockdown, I am more indebted to you all for League Express than usual, the columnists and letters are brilliant.
Once again, in Pulling No Punches, Garry Schofield hit the nail on the head. Oh, how I wish, and I am sure many more fans are of the same mind, that young players could get a fair show in the UK rather than going up the NRL
I know a lot of the imports aren’t bad, but we will never improve enough to beat the Australians until our young lads are given their chances here.
We must hope the RFL and Super League club coaches will take heed of Garry and other past greats of our wonderful game. The man knows of what he speaks, being a top man both sides of the world, and Martyn Sadler too. Why don’t the RFL get them both, if they are willing, involved in the running of our game instead of the influx of outsiders?
I feel this would be a forward move, and result in a fairer, more level playing field for all in our Great Game.
David Rae, Barrow in Furness

I appreciated Bill Rees’ letter in last week’s Mailbag (10th August) about previous generations always being better than the current ones.
But Bill didn’t take his history far enough.
Does he really believe that Albert Goldthorpe could hold a candle to the great William Webb Ellis, who picked up the ball and ran with it, thus beating every single one of his opponents?
Now that is real star quality!
Who can doubt that Webb Ellis would run rings around any of today’s halfbacks?
David Pearson, Barnsley

It was great to read of Keighley’s signing of the hugely creative Scott Murrell (‘Cougars swoop for Murrell’, LE August 10th), but I’d have used ‘pounce’ in the headline instead.
The last I heard, a cougar is a cat rather than a bird.
Love your paper.
Brian Lund, Nottingham