“The meeting of sullied bodies in physical contact cannot be approved.”
That was how China’s National Sports Council is said to have worded a ban on rugby after the Communists came to power in 1949.
Today the sport is no longer illegal. But its image as a dangerous game persists in the minds of many Chinese.
So it wasn’t too surprising that rugby – or English Olive Ball, as it is known in Chinese – hit the headlines last week when news leaked that the southern city of Nanjing plans to introduce the sport in 30 primary schools from September.
The move is part of a combined effort by the local authorities and the International Rugby Board to popularise the game in China – which has fewer than 3,000 players and has never qualified for the Rugby World Cup.
The Yangtze Evening News quoted Niu Yong, the head of the Nanjing Rugby Association, as saying that the ultimate goal was to get China to a level where it could field rugby teams at the Olympics. A Sevens version of the sport is to be reintroduced in Rio’s 2016 Olympiad.
But parents in Nanjing seemed less than impressed by the announcement – even after it became clear the schools intended to teach touch rugby rather than the full contact version of the game.
“This sport is too violent and bloody,” one father complained on the Xici online forum. “Even if I was to let my child play, my wife would not.”
Another father simply said: “This is the sport of barbarians. Even adults should not take part.”
The refusal to let children play led to handwringing in the media over “fearful” or “overcautious parenting”.
“Now parents spoil their kids because they’ve only got one, and it’s not necessarily good for their future. Most of these families are urban families doing rather well economically. Children in rural areas can bear hardships. Therefore, we should raise our kids as if we are ‘poor,’” Shandong’s Qilu News wrote in a stoic editorial.
The Beijing News agreed: “Excessive protection tangles with the law of natural growth for children. The life expectancy for greenhouse flowers is weak, melons and fruits are ill-nourished if they haven’t been weathered, and even enclosed animals lack vitality. Everybody knows that.”
Sina Weibo users were more direct.
“What Chinese education nurtures is a large number of dorks who only know how to read! Many guys don’t play any sports and are afraid of body contact. It’s not manly at all! So feminine…” one comment suggested.
Other views were more sympathetic. Rugby is, after all, a game prone to injuries. “Parental doubts about rugby are normal. This is because the public does not understand the sport,” Sichuan Online wrote. “You cannot rush in like this without a pilot programme or propaganda guidance.”
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