A rugby player was suspended for sticking his fingers in an opponent’s bum, and it’s not the first time

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Corey Norman, an Australian rugby player who has been playing in France, has been suspended eight games after video emerged of him sticking his fingers in an opponent’s rear end during a game over the weekend.

The video is going viral around the world for how surreal it is, but really this is one of the most vile tactics in rugby. It takes basic cheating and elevates it to sexual assault, and it’s happened before. In 2021, Kenny Edwards, a player from New Zealand completing in England, was suspended for 10 games for inserting his finger between a player’s buttocks. In 2001, one of the most infamous examples came from Australia’s National Rugby League, when former player John Hopoate attacked three players in one games in the same manner.

So, why in the world would anyone use this in a game? It’s all about causing distraction and discord on the field. I grew up playing youth rugby in Australia from the age of eight. It wasn’t until I was 12 or so that I began hearing about players putting fingers in other players’ private areas. It wasn’t something that was instructed, at least on any team I ever played on, but there were certainly players who developed that reputation.

In rugby league, a fumble, or “knock on” occurs any time a player drops the ball on the ground and it travels forward. The result is an immediate turnover. So, if you’re in a tackle and you surprise a player with a finger up their backside, it could easily result in the ball carrier flinching or reacting, turning the ball over as a result. It could also prompt retaliation if the referee never saw the inciting incident, in which case you’re likely to get a turnover either way.

It’s not the only technique of this type. Sharp finger nails, use of pressure points in tackles, stepping on ankles or hamstrings — all designed to force a knock on. Hell, when I was 10 a player was kicked out of my youth league when it was discovered that he (with the help of his parents) had filed the plastic studs on his cleats to points, so they looked like a cross between cleats and track spikes. When they were confronted the kid’s dad pushed an official and threw a glass bottle of lemonade at him.

This most recent incident could spell the end of Norman’s career. He’s currently on a one year deal with Toulouse, with only four games left in the year. It means that should the 31-year-old try and return in 2023 he’ll miss the first four games as the suspension will rollover.

More importantly, rugby leagues around the world need to take this more seriously. While it’s already one of the stiffest penalties a player can receiver for improper conduct, the game seems hesitant to fully recognize these actions as a form of sexual assault. Whether they’ve always been a part of the game of not, it needs to be completely stamped out with serious, career-defining suspensions.

With two incidents in the past two years, and many more likely missed by officials, the issue doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

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