Brickbats and Backslaps : Rugby – it’s all about soul

We all do it for the love of sport. It’s something that catches your emotion and your heart, and be it as a spectator or a player, you fall in love with the sport – no matter what it is, you are a fan for life.

This passion and desire, be it to play for your national team or to devote your time to a team is called madness by those that don’t get it. Why would one want to spend money on supporting a team that you have no links to? Why bother to play for a club or national team when you don’t get paid?

Here in Asia, Rugby is at its essence a game that is played by those who are clearly infused with that kind of madness. It has to be when all you get for representing your country at the highest level in some parts of Asia is a nice t shirt and a pat on the back. Clearly you are mad when your involvement in the game is most often missed time with other things and little or no return in a financial sense. This can be said of all sport in Asia where even professional sportsmen don’t really get a lot to make a return on interest in a financial sense.

Saturday night in Singapore, at the glorious National Stadium, you saw a community of mad people come together to celebrate the sport that they love. It has been a tough time for the local rugby community the last two months with the loss of two great gentlemen who dedicated their lives to their community, family and their sport.

At the curtain raiser to the second Sunwolves “home game”, two veteran over 35 teams lined up and held a minutes silence for these two gentlemen. Amran Mohamed and Slemat Rakisan were two pillars in the rugby community – local Malays who fell in love with the oval ball game as opposed to the more popular round ball game. Men who were the best of friends, born out of their shared passion for playing for their country and the Police Rugby club in particular. These two played with passion for their country and then went on to mentor countless others in their community to take up the game. A game that in this part of the world still has some unwanted attachment to the old colonial days.

The Singapore Legends opened the curtain raiser against an Asian Japanese legends team with a dominating win. Here the term legends refers to those who are over 35 and have left their elite playing days behind. It is mind boggling to most how one can come out and play a “recreational” game of rugby, especially since it is a contact sport and really something you don’t just come out and do a kick about like the other kind of football.

The Singapore team had guys who played in the modern heyday of rugby on the island nation for the national team. Guys who trained four times a week on the pitch, went to the gym and still had day jobs or went to school. It is a similar situation to most guys who play for the national team in Singapore and most of South East Asia – they play for the special notion of the game that representing your country is more than worth its weight in gold.

Rugby is still a youth when it comes to professionalism, almost 21 years but not there yet. The fundamental notions of brotherhood are the glue that binds many players and fans. Most Rugby players play it with blood sweat and tears. A fine example of that is Daisuke Kano, a 50 something rugby mad professional who played recreationally for clubs in Japan, Thailand and Singapore. He came back to Singapore specifically this weekend to play for the Asian Japanese Legends. He has had 4 knee operations on both legs, and still is as passionate to play the game as when he started in high school. The post match drinking does not harm as well.

That is the essence of the game, where team mates are friends for life, no matter how often you see them. Mark Lee, Andrew Kwong and Marcus Tang have been friends, team mates and opponents for almost 20 years. They played on the Singapore national team together, and still meet up regularly. Like most, their friendship started on opposite sides, schoolboy foes that became club and national team mates. That’s the uniqueness of the sport that we love. You hammer each other for 80mins, and become buddies after the whistle blows.

At the professional level, you can still see that passion, but its a totally different ball game. Young guys at the age of 18 are now being paid to play a game most did for passion. So that is the game changer. You are out there to do a job. You tour internationally for one sole purpose which is to play a game and be paid to do so. Social nights with the team and the opposition are normally a good meal and a good night rest. These young men play the game in different times.

For Asia, we can only hope and wait for a player from South East Asia to play professionally. There have been some close calls, but we need that for the game to grow upwards at the professional level. Young players need role models, and to see the road for them. Sunwolves Coach Filo Tiatia echoed this sentiment when he was in the FOX Sports studios earlier last week.

Till then, we will continue to be passionate for this game, be it playing or watching. It’s a unique feeling, like most of sport. It is something that does not leave you, not for the crazy ones at least.