Rugby League and Politics

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER explains why he believes that the RFL and Super League shouldn’t allow political slogans to appear at Rugby League matches.


A number of League Express readers (and I’ve found the same thing with people who I interact with on Twitter) have assumed that, because I believe that sporting events shouldn’t carry political slogans, it means that I am naive enough to think that politics and sport should never mix.

Of course if I did think that, I would be seriously foolish.

The point I have made, and continue to make, is that it is a great mistake for a governing body to introduce political slogans into the sporting arena on matchday.

We have already seen how divisive that issue is, if you look at our League Express Mailbag this week and compare it with last week’s edition. It’s fair to say that the issue has proved to be remarkably controversial for our readers.

On the one hand, I don’t know anyone who believes that racism is anything other than completely unacceptable.

But on the other hand that doesn’t mean we must have political messages aimed at us, even ones we might agree with, when we should be enjoying a Rugby League game.

Unfortunately in the modern era some people love nothing more than to denigrate others who don’t share their political views.

Two weeks ago, for example, Wakefield Trinity were subject to a series of ridiculous allegations because they chose not to kneel before the kick-off of their game against Wigan and they repeated that stance against the Catalans.

Wakefield Chief Executive Michael Carter in particular came in for some quite unjustified abuse and his response, which we printed in last week’s issue of League Express, should be read very carefully by anyone who engaged in those accusations.

And the club is backed by one of its most eminent supporters, the former Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe, who has been an anti-racism campaigner all his life.

As an MP David did an enormous amount of political work for Rugby League, not least getting the game accepted in the Armed Forces. He is almost the personification of the fact that sport and politics are intertwined. And he grew up supporting Wakefield Trinity alongside his political colleagues and opponents.

But on matchday at Belle Vue, the local politicians from all the parties who supported Wakefield Trinity closed ranks to shout for the team. For a few hours each week they could leave politics behind. And that’s how it should be.

I have no doubt that there are some people who would like to exploit Rugby League to send out political messages at matches.

But the danger is that we will alienate a significant section of our audience, not because they are racists, but because they want to enjoy the game for 80 minutes without politics interfering.

I don’t think that is too much to ask for.

This article is an amended version of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column from this week’s League Express.

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