Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Punched twice in face... but who's keeping score

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BRISBANE -- A public brawl erupted in Australia Wednesday night, during which a prominent member of the community punched another equally high-profile figure in the face, twice.

There will be no court appearances, no tearful apologies, no public disgrace followed by participation in an anger-management course.

Instead, both men are being celebrated in many quarters for their no-nonsense approach to conflict resolution.

By way of explanation, Wednesday night was Origin Night in Australia. There is neither space in this column nor words in the English language to convey the fervour surrounding this annual rugby league football contest between the two eastern seaboard states of New South Wales and Queensland.

Retail stores have Origin Specials, politicians issue statements supporting their teams while Queensland Premier Campbell Newman this year put viewing the game in the same category as his parliamentary duties.

"We are all locked in at Parliament, but I understand the chief whip has kindly organized a room, a screen, bar snacks and $10 a head for us to go,'' he told reporters of the game, being broadcast from the NSW capital of Sydney. "I will endeavour to get there. ''

Put "footy'' before law-making and you'll get a round of applause in a state that for three decades has made this best-of-three matches tournament the chief social feature of its winter months.

But this year, an incident once seen as a crucial part of the contest caused a brief flurry of public angst.

NSW captain Paul Gallen punched Queensland player Nate Myles in the face, twice.

Myles responded in an altercation that developed into what the Irish still call a "donnybrook'' before normal play resumed.

Amid the normal collective grunt of public satisfaction following such a display of tribal violence was a brief but intense ferment of unease among anti-violence advocates who chorused the familiar question: "What message are we sending our kids?''

That violence, in certain situations, is perfectly acceptable, is the unequivocal answer.

Rugby league football can be brutal. It has been refined but never really passed through that major evolutionary step North American football took a century ago when the deaths of 18 players in one season prompted U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt to review the rules.

It's Queensland's favourite sport. Yet the same state hosts a government-backed campaign known as "One Punch Can Kill.''

That worthy initiative warns young people against the dangers of physical violence with the perfectly reasonable and accurate observation that one blow (especially to the head) can end a life.

Only last weekend a young man, Simon Cramp, received a king hit (an Oz term for a hard, unexpected hit to the head), leaving him with critical head injuries.

Parents Angela and Phillip Cramp could only shake their heads in disgust Wednesday night.

"It's totally wrong. You're there to see good football, not fighting or punching," Phillip Cramp told News Limited newspapers.

What can we say? The state righteously outlaws and condemns violence yet society simultaneously rewards it.

How we can so effortlessly hold two contradictory views is a mystery even the most brilliant social scientist won't solve any time soon.

The wiser one falls back on that old T.S. Eliot observation about the shadow lands between "the idea and the reality.''

The bout of introspection was short-lived. NSW coach Laurie Daley praised Gallen, who allegedly lashed out because of Myles' unfair tackling: "It's a great Origin moment, as far as I'm concerned," Daley said.

The "victim" appeared to agree, insisting he didn't want his adversary facing internal discipline:

"Let's be honest, everyone wants to see it,'' Myles said of the violence.

Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2013 A13

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