New Rugby Chairman Is An Outspoken Atheist

Here’s everything I know about rugby: Ross from Friends once hurt himself while playing it just to impress Emily.

Maybe I need to pay more attention, though, because Ryan Walkinshaw, the 24-year-old who inherited the chairmanship of Gloucester Rugby (An English team), is a vocal atheist:

Ryan Walkinshaw (Daily Mail)

His scorn is based on their often zealous religious stance, which he is at turns mystified and incensed by. ‘I hate the word “belief”,’ he said. ‘I think about things scientifically.

‘I read a lot of books about science and the history of religion. One of my heroes is Christopher Hitchens, who was a game-changing anti-religious writer — showing it up for what it is. I don’t understand why someone can spout their God stuff, but atheists have always had to keep quiet.

‘Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t mean it has to be respected unless it is supported by evidence. We live in the most exciting time in the history of the sciences. Reading about that is far more exciting than reading about a burning bush or a guy who builds an Ark.’

Whether or not Walkinshaw’s fascination with science and dismissal of religion will ever have a bearing on his running of Gloucester is unclear. In truth, it’s unlikely. But it shows he has the courage of his convictions and that can only be good for his club.

Even better than that is the fact that the locals don’t seem to care about his atheism. They just care about how he manages the team and all signs point to him doing a great job so far.

You can add that to your Giant List of Things That Would Never Happen in America.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Sean Keeney

    Excellent. I live in Gloucester and go to Kingsholm (their ground) occasionally. Never knew he was an atheist.

    I’m usually a football fan but am getting disenchanted with all the casual racism and violence, so rugby is a refreshing change. For those who aren’t familiar rugby is treated very differently in England – fans mingle in the same stands, beer is served when the match is on, stuff that doesn’t happen with football. It’s more of a family atmosphere game than football/soccer.

    I missed the match yesterday but might have to go on soon, especially next time Gloucester get to stuff Bath :)

  • machintelligence

    Bumper sticker seen on a Rugby fan’s car: GIVE BLOOD — PLAY RUGBY.
    There is a large new Rugby stadium in Glendale (Denver) Colorado and I have been assured that the only bloodshed that occurs is on the field.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Way cool.
    Imagine if the owner of a national baseball team in the United States came out with an anti-religion statement like that. 

  • Rufus

    I think the key word in the headline is Outspoken – there are probably a few more atheists in charge of premiership rugby clubs, only not outspoken ones.

    It has to be said, as a rugby player, I haven’t had that much blood shed on the pitch. I tend to suffer more from minor breakages instead (fingers, toes, nose, ribs in the last couple of seasons).

  • TnkAgn

    After the book “Alive” was published in 1974, my fellow ruggers’ autos sported bumper stickers that read, “RUGBY PLAYERS EAT THEIR DEAD.”

    I played for 6 years, and know that all ruggers are at least irreverent, and believe that most are agnostics, if not atheists. I think it comes with the Rugby mindset – particularly among forwards!

  • TnkAgn

     Not likely. Baseball is the most superstitious sport in America. Or rather, the players and fans are. How else can you explain “The Rally Cap?”

  • HughInAz

    They say soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by thugs, and rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen.

  • 3lemenope

    And ladies. At the college I attended, we had a heckuva Women’s Rugby team.

  • Michaelbrice

    I grew up in Scotland, emigrated to Canada in my teens, went back to Scotland and played in the league there for a while, had a trial for the junior national team. All told I played for about 25 years in several countries, for several clubs in many leagues and tournaments. 

    The last thing on my team mates minds was whether I was religious and if so which cult I belonged to. They had much more important things to think about! 

    It’s a tough game played by tough men and women, and TnkAgn may be correct, I do not ever recall any religion or prayer infiltrating our club or team in all the years I played. Maybe the nature of the sport breeds pragmatism.

  • Tony

    Yea, imagine that.  I can’t.

  • weak562

    A good point

  • David Pearce

    Unfortunately that isn’t universal – I’ve noticed lately a couple or three of the All Blacks aping US sportsman and making religious gestures after scoring a try, or having crosses or religious verses written on their strapping- Certainly not in the best traditions of the All Blacks where the accepted form historically after scoring was to put your head down and jog nonchalantly back to half way without any obvious emotion.  Also, I seem to recall a few articles where it was noted that Brad Thorn – one of the hardest men to pull on the black jersey in the last 30 years – is a devout christian, although I don’t think I ever saw him make any displays of it on the field.

  • NickDB

     I played lock for a catholic school growing up in South Africa. The biggest religion in South Africa IS Rugby. Even at the Catholic school we didn’t have prayers or anything remotely related to religion interfering with it.

  • NickDB

     There are plenty of players from all countries who show individual signs of devotion (Bryan Habana is one that I can think of). But that’s about it and not many of them at that either.

  • Tim day Bath’s time will come.

  • Slugsie

    It’s certainly a little weird that over here we are officially not a secular nation with a national religion, yet we have no problem with Atheists holding pretty much any office (although head of the Church of England might be stretching it a little). Yet over there in the US where you are officially a secular nation (despite what many seem to believe) and yet Atheists are almost untenable in any public position.

    You ‘Muricans are weird. ;)

    Oh, and if there was ever a competition for the ‘Most uncomfortable man in a suit’ picture, Ryan has to be in the runnings.

  • Salford3lad

    Rugby is a game played by men with odd shaped balls…………

  • Sean Keeney

    Haha! Was a cracking match at Kingsholm, am going to the corresponding Bath match next time!

  • The Other Weirdo

     Now that’s a game I’d watch.

  • Adam

    I can think of another – Bakkies Botha of South Africa, a lock forward very similar in mould to Brad Thorn, also an evangelical christian and big  hunter. Mind you, he didn’t show it on the pitch as it was his job to be (euphemistically) the ‘enforcer’…

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    i had to quit the college rugby team my first day. i was too big, and was afraid i was going to hurt some of the smaller women in such a physical sport. it’s a lot of fun, tho, and if you like getting dirty and pushing and shoving, give it a try.

    love this guy. keep on being loud and proud, Ryan!

  • Mick Wright

     I’ve wondered about that little intercontinental comparison before.

    Maybe churches in America feel like they’ve got more to prove?

  • Mick Wright

    “Whether or not Walkinshaw’s fascination with science and dismissal of
    religion will ever have a bearing on his running of Gloucester…”

    It won’t. That is pants-on-head stupid. The only reason they’d even say something like this is that they feel like they should be outraged by it, and are taking whatever dig at him they can.

    But then it is the Daily Heil.

  • David Pearce

    Although if I recall correctly, when the Boks won the cup in ’95 they did all gather in a circle for a prayer session in the middle of the field straight after the final whistle (of course I could be mistaken given my vision was blurred crying into my beer over the All Blacks loss!! :) )

  • NickDB

    Fair enough, and to be honest my vision was blurred from crying because we won :)

    But even if that was a prayer, we’re going back 17 years to think of an instance. Not bad going.

    But then again Rugby is the best sport ever invented so not too surprised.

  • NickDB

     Yeah, but that’s part of my point, there are extremely devout theists playing Rugby, but the Rugby field really isn’t the place for it.