British politician Winston Churchill said that rugby was “a sport of hooligans played by gentlemen”. And, since then, there are few definitions that lovers of this centenary sport like more. Another politician, the South African Nelson Mandela, used rugby to harmonize relations between blacks and whites in a country that was beginning to turn its back on apartheid. That’s how John Carlin told it in the book The human factor (Seix Barral, 2008), the one that inspired the film Undefeated Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Almost 30 years after that South Africa that won the world championship, in addition to a greater unity of their country, rugby is mobilizing again. Not because of racism anymore, but because of harassment and intimidation on social networks. It has happened as a result of a complaint message from a father on Twitter.
“I had to delete a Facebook post because some idiot posted a comment saying my son is too old to play with 12 and under and not healthy. If only people could know how hard you work to get in shape and how low your self-confidence is. Don’t worry Alfie, I will always be your biggest fan,” wrote Mark Pugsley. The message was accompanied by a photo of Alfie, his son, an overweight boy and player for the Oakdales, in south-east Wales, near Cardiff. In a country where rugby is a religion, the father’s tweet went viral. Two days later he had accumulated 14,000 retweets, 220,000 likes and more than 11,000 messages.
This was not the first photo of Alfie that Pugsley posted on social media. His Twitter account is full of messages about rugby and photos of his son and his team, from which some of the first messages of support for the boy came. “Alfie is highly respected as well as one of the key members of our team. And above all a lovable boy. The coaches at Oakdale know that he has our full support and that he will always be by our side,” wrote Dana Johnson, a member of the rugby club.
Since then, Alfie, now world famous, has received the support of some of the biggest stars of the sport he has played since he was a child. One of the most emotional came from France. International player Matthieu Jalibert wrote to him: “Alfie, I had to hear all my youth that he was too small, too thin, too skinny. When I read your dad’s post, my heart aches. Never lose hope. Believe in your dreams. Your dad is your first fan. I am the second”.
Hi mark, please show this to Alfie, I heard very similar things when I was younger, Alfie keep working hard, you will have the last laugh and I promise this experience will make you a better person later in your life. Keep smiling 💜 pic.twitter.com/IwXhC1iwGX
— Alex Corbisiero (@AlexCorbs) January 24, 2022
The young athlete also received messages from one of the stars of the All Blacks, the New Zealander Jerome Kaino; South African Tendai Mtawarira, nicknamed The Beast; or the former British player and television commentator Alex Corbisiero, who even shared a photo of himself as a child. “Colleague, you have my full support – wrote Mtawarira. I also went through the same thing once when people hammered me about my size and questioned whether I was old enough to compete in my age group. Keep your head up and never let the haters they can with you The game of rugby is for everyone.
Indeed, rugby has always been congratulated for being inclusive, democratic, for welcoming bigger or smaller boys, corpulent and fine, in fact it is part of its secret. And of his idiosyncrasy, that of those hooligans who play like gentlemen, that of heavy, big forwards. This is how Kaino also reminded him: “Our beautiful game is for all genders, for all social classes, all shapes and sizes. Keep that smile on your face and your magnificent work.”
That was how one of the so-called trolls of social networks awakened the most supportive side of users and rugby lovers.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.