Debate: Cuth’s Rugby Saga

Two Durham students offer their opinions on the university’s decision to ban Cuth’s Rugby this term

With press coverage of the recent Cuth’s Rugby saga going national, debate has been raging over whether the university’s decision to ban the Rugby club was justified. As can be expected, The Daily Mail comment section was alive with the sound of sensibly formulated views.

Ever the ground for heated debate, The Tab has found two writers to give their competing perspectives on the big question: Should the Rugby Club have been banned?

For, Anonymous

This article carries a trigger warning for the discussion of paedophilia, rape and rape apology.

As you may have noticed by now (considering the disgrace to the University splashed across multiple national newspapers) Cuth’s Men’s Rugby Club have got themselves into a spot of trouble; a spot of trouble with everyone who has an ounce of respect or empathy whether connected to the university or not.

In case you’ve been living under some sort of rock, oblivious of social injustice for the last few weeks, I’ll sum up: the brawny and possibly not too brainy club from our very own St. Cuthbert’s Society decided to theme an entire social around the disgraced (and disgraceful) Jimmy Savile – and the poor lads have been banned from playing until Christmas. Please, please, hold your applause – well, I suppose if you’ve got a weak will or a strong stomach, you can read the full story here.

Now, I’m not going to go all crazy feminist on you… no, wait, I am. Let’s have a talk about why it’s wrong, kids. No pun intended. Seriously no pun intended, because bottom line, jokes about rape and paedophilia are not funny. Firstly, it’s bad comedy: get some new material. Secondly, trivialising the combined experiences of multiple people who have suffered severe trauma, in this case at the hands of one man; but on a wider scale  up to one in four people. But I’ll get back to that.

Thirdly, you may have noticed that I mentioned ‘trigger warning’ at the beginning of this article, but, ‘what’s a trigger?’ I hear you scream. Here’s the simple version: imagine that your toast lands jam side down and it was your last piece of bread, and you spent ages picking the mould off it. You don’t want to hear about toast for the rest of the day, right?! I mean, it’s pretty upsetting; you were really looking forward to that toast, as well. It’s not even December yet, your loan has run out, you can’t afford to buy toast at the shop anymore. You’re just really annoyed at the toast right now and you don’t want to think about it.

Now imagine you got raped. Hey, it’s not that great a surprise, one in four women have been, and the mens’ statistics aren’t far behind. You don’t want to be reminded of it. That is some toast that you seriously never want to see again. You certainly don’t want to see an entire society dressed up as that toast, wandering through your college bars, making all sorts of fuss. ‘It’s a joke,’ they cry, freshers dressed as young girls, potential victims of paedophilia, ‘we didn’t mean to offend anyone!’ No one cares. No one cares if you didn’t mean to offend. Think of it as stepping on someone’s foot – that person doesn’t care why you did it or whether you meant to hurt them, they just want you to get off their foot.

I was asked to write an article on whether the ban was fair, and to be quite frank, I think it’s laughable that it’s even in question. As far as I’m concerned, it is just that the University forced them to get the hell away from the collective feet of those affected by rape and paedophilia. It hurts. We don’t find it funny. We don’t care if you do. The rest of the country is pretty ashamed of, what’s meant to be, one of the best Universities in this country .

Of course, the sensible and outspoken members of the Durham community are standing up against this behavior, with multiple feminist student-led organisations taking action . I expect quite a few heated arguments between people with any understanding of what the effects are and various members of the club in bars. Not that I’d know. I certainly haven’t been involved. I’ve been too busy trying to get my feet away from the people who are so determined to step on them.

Against, Phillip Kilby

This isn’t going to be popular. This article is going to infuriate some people, and please others, but perhaps that’s the whole point.

I’m going to avoid discussing the damage caused on the social. This hasn’t made the papers because a fire alarm got set off. From here on in let’s assume the ban was totally related to the theme.

It’s fitting to mention the media here, because one thing that must be asked is whether or not the authorities at the university reacted to this as a potential media bomb. It’s not hard to imagine that while they read the incident report, phrases like “take this sort of thing very seriously” were already going through their heads. It’s not hard to see why. But the real crux of the matter isn’t the fine detail, it’s the issues surrounding offence.

I studied Law at Durham, I’m very familiar with the “balance of Art 8 and Art 10” that’s essentially freedom of expression against freedom to a personal life for us in this case. The idea is that the social as a collective of individuals has a right to both express itself and do as it pleases, but must consider the rights of X not to have their rights restricted. Too technical? That’s fair, this decision might not be.

Let’s start with X. Who is X, for that matter – can I be X because I find the social’s theme distasteful OR must I be a victim in the Jimmy Saville scandal to be X? Well that can’t be too relevant here because we don’t know who’d seen the social, lets assume both.

Now if there’s to be a balance there are two sides, on one side Cuth’s Rugby, on the other those offended, but it’s not just a question of two people having rights, it’s all about balancing the effect on them.

The effects on the team are apparent. Loss of an aspect of their personal development, both in the ban and the censorship of their satirical social. The harms to the rights of X are harder to define.

So perhaps the question here should be what’s the harm? This is satire, it’s a reasonably harmless expression of outrage at the scandal, or maybe it’s just satire (Satire is a recognised form of important expression). To claim that some real injury was done is ludicrous, the Hillsborough cases explain how the legal system deals with psychological harm caused by witnessing an event, it’s rather more extreme than mere distaste and the issue here is that the University is acting as though this isn’t just distasteful, it’s harmful.

The law, in simple terms, doesn’t protect you from being offended very often. Racial aggravation and religious intolerance can land you in it, but on the other hand One Direction are still allowed to sing despite my frequent letters to the DPP.

It would take a great deal of research to establish whether or not this parody of the scandal would “trivialise” child abuse, although one suspects it wouldn’t. It would take a great deal of debate and investigation to decide if witnessing a distasteful joke causes you harm, although one suspects it wouldn’t.

It wouldn’t take much to work out that a sports ban seriously restricts this club and its members from enjoying their private life and sets worrying precedent for the future of censorship, although one suspects that won’t matter to the decision maker. To restrict someone’s rights this way is quite simply disproportionate to the offence caused. (Although One Direction this changes nothing!)

*Editor’s Note: The Tab does not endorse or promote any of the opinions contained within this article. It was published with the intention of promoting debate within the university on an incident that has sparked national interest.