Compassion & Commitment to Change: The Value of a Life (Part 2)


The June 2016 post, “The Value of a Life”, was an examination of expressions of sympathy and outrage following events resulting in the loss of life, contrasted with actions taken by individuals, companies and governments who prioritise their own gains over the lives of others. Examples of deadly disregard for life in that piece included international support for the devastating war in Yemen, the concealment of scientific evidence of harm by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, and the lack of action to prevent the deaths of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean. Countless more examples of callous policy and behaviour have occurred since the original piece: government policies resulting in deaths and suicide attempts at Australian-run offshore immigration centres and the separation of migrant children from their families detained at the southern US border; the total disregard for the residents of low-lying and vulnerable nations in the face of the climate emergency, with nations and industries unwilling to change their practices or endanger their own profits; weapon manufacturers lobbying against any form of gun regulation against a backdrop of frequent mass shootings and terror attacks.

Following high-profile cases of tragic loss of life, there are public outpourings of grief and calls for change, expressions of sympathy flood social media, flowers and money are donated, candle-lit vigils are held and politicians promise to take action. However, in today’s constantly moving news cycle, the initial shock and outrage quickly blunt as time passes and other issues come to the fore. While ‘thoughts and prayers’ may be plentiful, without constant public pressure the political will to deal with the underlying problems is limited and real efforts to bring about positive change have been lacking.

A white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, Aoteroa-New Zealand this March, killing 51 people. The immediate aftermath saw a huge outpouring of public grief and solidarity with the country’s Muslim population, including donations to victim-support funds and multi-denominational vigils held around the country. Images of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern comforting the families of victims flashed around the world. The Prime Minister’s message to the Muslim community, “You are us”, became a rallying cry and many other New Zealanders took comfort in the assertion that, “This is not us”, firm in the conviction that the country is a welcoming beacon of equality. This raised questions about this utopian vision of the nation, with a conversation being initiated, asking for a deeper examination of the country’s colonial past and treatment of the Maori people and current outcomes for the indigenous community, as well as its history of racist attacks against Pacific Island, Asian and Muslim citizens and residents. There were also  calls for the government to review its immigration policy , to end discrimination against those from African and Middle Eastern nations in the quota system. Meanwhile, rugby, for many the heart of New Zealand’s cultural life, also came under scrutiny. The Christchurch-based team in the Super Rugby competition, established in 1996, is called the Crusaders and boasts a logo with a sword-wielding knight and precedes home matches with horse-riding armed knights galloping around the stadium. The name and imagery had been questioned by some in the past but, in the light of a terrorist attack specifically targeting Muslims, the view that the branding was not appropriate gained some momentum. While the club were reluctant to make any immediate changes, they agreed to conduct a full review, including gathering public feedback. Their club statement read; What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch on Friday; our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit. In our view, this is a conversation that we should have and we are taking on board all the feedback that we are receiving, however, we also believe that the time for that is not right now.”


Six months after the attack and the issues of racism, discrimination and the country’s immigration policies have already slipped down the news and out of many’s view. For a while, a spotlight was placed on white supremacy in the country, with charges brought against those who shared the Christchurch attacker’s video and screed, and other racist messages, and the government initiated a gun buy-back scheme to remove semi-automatic firearms from the streets. However, already the political consensus on further gun control is breaking down and many of the questions surrounding systemic racial inequality, discriminatory immigration quotas and the reporting of hate crimes remain unaddressed. Over at the rugby stadium, small changes were promised for the logo, removing the sword by 2020, but the horses returned to the ground after a few weeks (without weapons). Submissions from the public were collected, including many from fans citing the ‘long history’ of the club and a resistance to caving in to politically-correct do-gooders, and in June, the club announced that there would be no name change until at least 2021, if at all. NZ Rugby Chairman Brent Impey explained that, The reality is that Adidas have got to make jerseys, there’s merchandising and that sort of stuff,” As well as this blatantly financial motivation, Leanne Ross, from the University of Otago’s department of marketing, explained another factor that may have contributed to the decision: “[fans] have extremely sentimental connections to the identity of a team. They feel that identity as themselves, as part of a community and a group.”   So it seems that, in spite of the sentiment that “You are us”, expressing solidarity and inclusiveness between communities, individuals’ own sense of identity and belonging can make it difficult for some to bridge divides. Many white New Zealanders’ national identity is built upon their perception of the country as a fully-integrated, totally accepting nation, and any suggestion that there are deep-seated issues of racial discrimination and violence is just too uncomfortable for some to contemplate. There is no doubt that people were genuinely upset by the horrendous events in Christchurch and really do want a better, safer place for everyone, but when it really comes down to it, many are not actually willing to make any alterations or take any action they see as impacting on their own lives and identities in order to relieve the pain of others.

While it’s easy to express condolences and sympathy following tragic events, how ready are we to actually make changes to our lifestyles in order to help others? Are we willing to really have those difficult conversations about our own positions of privilege and the racism and discrimination in society that we may prefer to discount? How much do organisations and governments rely on the fact that we will forget our outrage and demands for change in a packed news cycle; that we will reach saturation point and lose compassion for others? Do we just accept that those in positions of privilege and power are able to avoid addressing the problems that disadvantage others in order to continue benefiting themselves? The difficulty is sustaining that feeling of injustice we experience on hearing about the loss of life, maintaining that commitment to change, progressing the conversations about injustice and inequity, and keeping pressure on organisations and governments to make the structural changes required; to not forget and move on to the next grim news, while allowing callous disregard for life to continue.

4th September 2019, Jacqueline MacDonald

Women’s Rugby World Cup: Refreshing Refereeing



The women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland came to a thrilling climax this weekend with New Zealand’s Black Ferns XV reclaiming the title from holders England. The competition was an entertaining sporting display by highly-skilled, well-trained, committed amateur athletes, juggling the commitments of daily life while training for sport at the highest representative level. For the nations still developing women’s rugby, it was an opportunity to have quality game time with the top tier teams and a chance to raise the sport’s profile. Hopefully the rugby associations of all the nations involved will provide their full support to the women’s fifteen-a-side game, with development schemes which encourage women and girls to play. This is particularly important at a time when there is a danger of fifteens being neglected in favour of the sevens format, due to its inclusion in the Olympics and its perceived marketability. Hopefully too, more television networks and sponsors will recognise the value of the long game, lending financial assistance to clubs and players, and helping attract interest and viewers. But with any injection of support, and raised financial stakes, come changes in expectations, transforming aspects of the sport. One of the positive features of the current women’s amateur game that I hope can be preserved is the refereeing seen throughout this latest World Cup.

During this tournament, the on-field referees placed limited dependence on the video referees (TMOs), confidently relying on the assistance of their touch judges, and only asking for video confirmation in the most difficult of calls. There was a liberal application of penalty tries for goal-line infringements, and a sensible application of ‘benefit of the doubt’: an attacking maul marauding half a metre across the goal line before piling onto the ball should be awarded as a try even if the referee, or cameras, cannot ACTUALLY see the grounding. Contrast this with Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup match where an All Black’s try was granted by the referee on the ground only to be disallowed after the TMO interceded as there was no footage which showed a clear grounding of the ball. The referees and touch judges in the women’s competition also seemed to place a greater focus on one of the key fundamentals of the game, the forward pass. Too often this is let slide by touch judges and referees in the men’s game in order to keep the play flowing, perceiving that this is what the crowd wants.

Video referees undoubtedly have an important role in rugby, particularly in terms of safety. They have the ability to pick up dangerous tackles and foul play, often off-the-ball where incidents may escape the attention of the on-field officials. However the current situation in the professional game now sees TMOs intervening in the action on the field and making calls on sequences of play and tries without being requested for assistance by the match referee. This is resulting in long hold-ups but, more seriously, an undermining of the authority of the on-field referee. Team captains now regularly try to pressure the referee to send a decision to the TMO when they are unhappy with the on-field decision.

Undoubtedly, the financial investment in the professional game has put pressure on the sport to keep supporters happy, and the use of the TMO is a means by which to make the game seem fair. Viewers, all with their own opinions and analysis about every aspect of play, make a heavy investment through tickets, merchandise and betting, and are viewed as customers who must be kept satisfied. However, the frame-by-frame replay of portions of play take time and give an unrealistic view of what occurred. The grounding of a try which looks perfectly fine in real time may show a hand slipping from the ball in the final fraction of a second. What is the point of such pedantic distinctions? And while this situation all came about from a fear of the on-field referees making mistakes and receiving criticism, viewers regularly disagree with TMOs’ decisions too. For the future of the sport, professional rugby needs to look to the current amateur game where the balance of control remains very much in the on-field referees’ hands, with the TMO focussing on player safety and lending assistance with match decisions only when requested by the referee. And this also requires an acceptance by audiences, as well as coaches and players, that the authority of the referee is absolute, and the ultimate decisions they make are final, whether they are correct or made in error.

27th August 2017

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