'Toxic language' a blight on the game
PREMIERSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Liam Heagney speaks to Lewis Moody about Leicester Tigers’ form and the personalised abuse that is blighting the game.
So serious has the issue become in recent times that Tigers even sought police advice last April on how best to handle the matter.
Having finished eleventh place last term, one spot above relegated Newcastle, Leicester’s on-field fortunes haven’t much improved this season.
Halfway through their 22-match schedule, they again occupy the eleventh spot having won just three of eleven matches and would be favourites for the drop but for Saracens’ automatic relegation for salary cap breaches.
Moody, the 2003 World Cup winner who spent a dozen season at Welford Road, has no problem with performances being questioned in a critically constructive manner.
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They have to questioned in instances such as Leicester going to Sale last weekend and abjectly losing 36-3. However, he takes issue when the criticism turns to personalised abuse and crosses the line.
“Not to diminish the importance that games have for people but like any environment, all players and all coaches are trying to play to the best of their ability,” he told RugbyPass.
“No team or player ever takes the field trying to have a bad game or wanting to underperform or make a mistake. No coach ever prepares a team poorly because he is preparing a team to be successful at the weekend to the best of his ability.
“People have the right to be upset and disappointed in performances, of course, but it’s the language and the rhetoric and the behaviours that are used and condoned that have become an acceptable part of everyday practice, whether it is personal accounts or social media or the media – whatever platform it is happening on, it’s unacceptable.
“You wouldn’t say these things to people’s faces. Invariably people often wouldn’t say the comments they put on social media or in the media to someone’s face because there is an outcome, someone is going to be upset, distraught. There might be an angry reaction.
“It’s not to say that people can’t be disappointed. It’s when there are personal attacks on teams and individuals and the language and the rhetoric that is used is divisive, unhelpful and quite frankly shouldn’t be accepted.
“It’s not to say people can’t have a difference of opinion, it’s just doing it in a manner that is kind and reflecting on the fact that everyone is trying to do the best possible to the best of their ability. But we live in a strange time where everything we do in our lives can be put on a public forum.
“There is no place for it [personalised abuse] in any walk of life, let alone in sport. People are going out to do all they can to win and at the end of the day it is a game and there is always another the following week. Nothing is ever that important. The death threats, the toxic language and hate that is spread, it’s not acceptable.”
Reflecting on the inconsistent Leicester that exists now compared to the multi trophy-winning squad he was part of from 1997 through to 2010, Moody is hopeful that the settling of the relegation issue for this season will encourage Tigers to become more expressive in the months ahead and finish with a flourish.
“It has been a tough five years for Leicester with various different coaches coming and going and certainly for a mate of mine in Geordan Murphy to be any the helm when those times are so tough,” said the Land Rover ambassador.
“For the club and some friends, I’m relieved that Saracens did get relegated because it means it takes the pressure off Leicester to some degree in that the relegation is no longer going to be something for them to worry about.
“It shows the pressures of the modern game, the challenges that they have had in terms of trying to fit into the salary cap, they have had a much smaller squad size to choose from whereas Sarries were able to have a greater squad size with more world-class players.
“They probably look at some of those last few seasons and say it wasn’t on an even playing field, but hopefully the pressure is off the shoulders of the coaches at Leicester and they can start to relax and play some of the free-flowing rugby that they are capable of playing.
“Look at the backline they have, it’s second to none in terms of talent and the signings they have made and will be making. The real positive for Leicester is actually their academy side who over the last few seasons have performed really well, making it to academy finals.
“It shows the focus is being put in the right areas, looking at the young talent coming through and growing a new generation. All clubs need to be doing that but it is easy to say and challenging to do.”
By Liam Heagney, RugbyPass