Going Around the Wagon: The Rugby Story Played Over and Over

Author Brannavan Gnanalingam’s surprising reaction to his 2020 novel, Twigs.

Sprigs is a book about how agencies go in circles when responding to allegations of sexual violence. In the book, a 15-year-old is raped by First XV members of a private school after the season. I write about how PR (or “public relations,” for anyone lucky enough to not be saturated in that world) and self-preservation can become a more pressing priority than justice or victim consideration. But the book also tells how a cover-up can become an even bigger crime.

sprigs Not based on any specific events, but there is a long catalogue of shocking events in which the same narrative is played out over and over. I wanted to write about how a structured response works – so I wrote about this event in the book from the perspective of over a hundred characters as a way to show how that structure came about.

I’m just assuming I write a black comedy and it’s going to be like my other books: read by a few, then forgotten. After all, I mean I’m a New Zealand author, published by a pissant (TVNZ’s legal team’s word to us – long fiction) publishing group.

I didn’t expect this book to receive such a response. I’ve never spoken to people who said they read it and it captured high school for them. Others said they couldn’t finish the last part of the book, the part where it all comes together. I heard the former private school principal arguing about this at the Wellington Club. I had to sign a copy for the current boys’ school principal.

I’ve also heard that high school students who organized protests in response to incidents in neighboring schools read it. Some of these students also started petitions to reform sex education (and professors agreed) and conduct broader surveys to highlight their experiences. If true, played a small role in the mobilization of these students, which is really the best thing about my writing.I don’t think political art is a good substitute for actual social movements, so I’m glad sprigs Already have some impact.

The rapist in the book is the fifteenth member of a fictional school, St. Luke. The first part of the book details the high school rugby final between several fictional schools in Wellington. A scene is a MacGuffin – a mechanic that introduces many key characters in a book in a single scene. Still, it’s understandable that the book is read as a criticism of rugby culture and the boys/men it has produced. The “twig” in the title refers not only to the part of the football boot you use to stand in the mud, but also to the “twig” of the plant that is about to grow into something more complete.

The thing is, I love football. I was friends with the so-called athletes at school. However, I was never allowed to play football. Mom’s cousin died playing rugby in Sri Lanka. After that, my uncle disappeared from the grief. With that background, it’s fair enough. But I still play with my buddies at lunchtime. When I was 8, I accidentally elbowed my stomach while being grappled. My appendix had to be removed urgently after 12 hours.

I’ve watched a lot of rugby games before and my views would surprise anyone who didn’t expect Sri Lankans to know so much about the sport.A part of me wants to try in sprigs, Ignore this view. Rugby is popular in Sri Lanka anyway – just not very good at it.

However, I’m not too interested in just criticizing rugby. My books have always been about workplaces, institutions and power. I am interested in studying how power in traditional high schools exists and how it works when put to the test.

Football is influential in our high school because it is a source of status and school pride. But it’s just a fleeting force — a lot of strong kids reach their peak in high school. However, the same narrative is present in other institutions – eg politics, law, police. Yes, too, in adult rugby.

I try not to give any answers sprigs. The problem is too big and too complicated. You don’t have to be a Gramsci Marxist to know that if you do have power, you have a greater ability to change the social narrative. Leading the charge can actually influence social change rather than revolve around wagons and PR. It can also work: something as simple as All Blacks’ well-known “no idiots” policy has been used by many organizations and companies as a model for building strong teams.

Conservative organisations like Rugby New Zealand may not realise how much impact they can have in pushing for a more inclusive and safe country. Call it a virtue signal, if you really need it – but despite the moniker, it’s not for nothing. Many people can hear quiet voices through loudspeakers.

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