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BT Sport dodges Ofcom beating over bad ‘rugby munchers’ banter

BT narrowly avoiding a telling off from Ofcom when live rugby commentator Simon Ward used the phrase ‘rug munchers’ in a joke. 

During the European Rugby Challenge Cup match between the Newcastle Falcons and the Newport Gwent Dragons on January 17, Ward joked with Colin Charvis and David Flatman about the performance of the Welsh side. 

Charvis, a former captain of the Welsh national rugby union team, referred to the backs of the Newport side as ‘vegetables’, rugby slang for team members not involved in scrums who spend more time standing around than other player on the pitch. 

Ward then joked that: “Mickey Skinner [former England rugby union player] used to say something about rug-munchers but we’ll stick with vegetables – I’m sure that a lot more polite.”

Related: Premiership rugby deal extended on BT SportFlatman immediately chimed in with a comment about pre-watershed conduct but Ward did not appear to take the hint initially. Seven minutes later, Ward said:

“Now I must make an apology for that earlier Mick Skinner quote. If anybody took offence, I do apologise for that.” 

While the term ‘vegetables’ could be construed as being offensive to viewers with accessibility issues, Ofcom accepted that the term has its roots in rugby culture and was part and parcel of the irreverent chatter between commentators. 

Following a complaint from a viewer, Ofcom and BT took a slightly different view to the rug-munching crack, noting that the phrase is an offensive term directed at gay women. 

BT told the regulator that considered that the phrase was used to refer to players whose heads, pointed towards the ground when in scrums and rucks, leave them ‘munching’ at the turf, or ‘rug’ as the pitch is sometimes called. BT however was also aware of the crude meaning of the term and made this association clear to Ward. 

A BT spokesperson said: “Most viewers would associate this term as an offensive synonym for lesbians,” adding “during the post-match meeting with [Simon] Ward, it became clear that the commentator was unaware of the alternative meaning of the phrase and was repeating a description from an ex-professional player.” 

Rule 2.3 of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code sets out that material which may cause offence had to be justified by the context. The rule specifically refers to discriminatory treatment or language 

Ofcom didn’t accept BT’s reasons for Ward using the phrase, but as an apology was broadcast minutes later, the regulator considered the matter closed. 

A transcript of the offending exchange is reproduced below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

Colin Charvis: “What’s good about that confidence is you’ve known right from the minute that line-out was thrown in he’s [a Newport Gwent Dragons player] just waiting to get that ball. He’s told all those backs “‘get it to me you vegetables, let me have a run at these Falcons’”. 

Simon Ward: “Is that the calI, is that the technical call?” 

David Flatman: “That’s an insult in Wales”. 

Simon Ward: “Mickey Skinner used to say something about rug-munchers but we’ll stick with vegetables – I’m sure that a lot more polite.”

David Flatman: “You know we’re pre-watershed here don’t you.” 

Simon Ward: “Yeah, we do.”


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