User:Mitchell.A.King/The growth and development of a once amateur sport: The effects of globalization and the political struggles rugby union faces

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A video presentation exploring the change in values within rugby union. Also discussed is the political struggles the code faces and how the code is considered a business.Copy on Copy on Youtube. By Mitchell King

The information that is provided will explore how the games values have changed over the years, with particular focus on the political problems rugby union has been presented with over the years, and how the code is treated as a business. Rugby union began as an amateur sport and was initially only played by the upper middle class however over the years the code has developed into an international game. Some believe the sport has become a business, but this is only one aspect of the code. The sport is believed to bring divided nations together, one such example is in Ireland where they are divided in politics, religion and social class. A number of 'traditionalists' believe the current situation of the sport is not a good one, and the sport has moved away from its traditional values. This article will look at this shift in values and how it is not a negative move just an example of evolution. Rugby union being treated like a business will be explored with particular focus on the Rugby World Cup.


A video presentation is placed on this page summarising this topic. The presentation is a slideshow with pictures and audio.

History of Rugby Union[edit]

Traditional Values of the Code[edit]

Rugby Union was introduced in England as an amateur sport during the 1870s and was traditionally played by the upper middle class. The values were focused on gentlemanliness, leisure, loyalty and decency (Allison, 1998). The main goal of rugby union was to create a competitive environment and remain exclusive to private schools (Skinner, Stewart & Edwards, 2003). It was believed that if money were to be brought into the equation, paying its players, administrative staff and officials the amateur ethos and their values would be destroyed.

The Ferrier Letter: Changing the Face of Rugby Union[edit]

The first sign of conflict between the ‘traditionalists’ (those who wanted to keep rugby’s amateur status) and the expansionists (those who wanted it to become professional) was in 1893 at the RFU general meeting. The pubic school elite opposed any form of professionalisation of the sport making this rule part of the constitution (Thomas, 1997).

However, the signing of the Ferrier letter in 1995 resulted in the establishment of the Australian union and rival leagues such as World Rugby Corporation from being formed (Dabscheck,1998) . This agreement secured players services for a 95 per cent share of the revenue created from broadcasting rights. However the code was thrown into political turmoil in the United Kingdom as the struggle for power between national and international organisations began (Thomas, 1997).

File:RugbyScrum clar95.jpg
Rugby Union began as an amateur sport played only by the upper-middle class : Pictured here is a scrum during a game in 1990. Image by National Archives of Ireland

The transition from rugby union being based around its traditional values to it becoming a product should not be viewed as a negative shift as there are a number of benefits to not only the code but to the wider community. These benefits along with the shift in values will be discussed further in this article.

Political Influence[edit]

Conflict Within the Code[edit]

In 1995 the IRB announced that there was no longer any prohibition placed on the wages for players, staff or officials. (Thomas, 1997) believed this change to have caught the four ‘home unions’ of the British Isles off guard and threw clubs into disarray. This prompted the Rugby Football Union in England to give their clubs a year to adapt to the new changes.

The leading clubs felt they had lost control of the sports competitive structure, sponsorship deals and the distribution of funding to the RFU (Thomas, 1997). There was also debate over player ownership and contractual issues that threatened a ‘club-country’ split. The RFU then:

“stressed the need to ’deconflict’ wherever possible within the organisation of the open game, any marriage between traditional values and organizational forms, and the commercial imperatives of professionalism, as quickly appreciated by a group of leading clubs, was bound to be difficult if not impossible.”(Thomas, 1997)

The conflicts within the code resulted in a truce being called at the end of the 1996 season, as it was important to show the stability of the code to attract sponsorship deals and audiences.

However, post 1996 rugby union is considered a major threat to other rival codes due to its ‘purchasing power’ and ‘national and international networks’ (RFL, 1996). The consolidation of the code has resulted in divided nations being brought together. (Tuck, 2003) believes that this is evident across all nations but one particular example is especially evident in Ireland, where rugby union has created a ‘national identity’. It is thought that rugby union transcends all dividing factors in Ireland such as, politics, religion and social class division. Nevertheless, this belief is not what rugby union was founded on and segregation of class was one of the traditional values.

Irish fans celebrating and welcoming their team home in Dublin after their Grand Slam victory. Image by Associated Press of ESPN

The 2011 RWC was tainted by unfair treatment of minnow nations by the International Rugby Board IRB the English team admitted to cheating by switching balls during games, were not fined, it was dealt with internally and those guilty were expelled from the tournament. However minnow nations were fined for using mouth guards produced by a company that were not official sponsors of the tournament. This simply shows the RWC is a money grabbing force with little respect for traditional values that focus towards fair play and professionalism.

Rugby Union as a Business[edit]

Sport Tourism[edit]

The growth of sport tourism for rugby events has been rapid (Hinch & Higham, 2001) and is a result of the sport becoming professional. Ritchie & Adair (2004) suggests that domestic rugby competitions, such as the Super 15 Rugby is a small-scale event compared to ‘mega’ events such as the rugby world cup. It is believed that small-scale events attract the same benefits as the larger events however, do not attract the same negative effects. Ritchie & Adair (2004) believe that political drive is a negative impact of large-scale events resulting in a poor quality of life for the host community.

The Rugby World Cup (RWC)[edit]

The financial and economic impact of the RWC 2011 was estimated to be substantial and according to a fact sheet published by the IRB the tournament was expected to generate over half a billion dollars for the New Zealand economy. In a separate report published by the IRB it was stated that since the 1995 RWC the events revenue surplus has increased every tournament since it began (£17.6m, £47m, £64.3m and £122.4m respectively). The surplus generated by the RWC is utilized in some of the following ways:

  • Payment of development grants to member unions and regional associations
  • Assist with the delivery of global educational programs such as rugby ready
  • Payment of rugby officials
  • Code promotion through the use of media (television, internet, electronic publications)

Benefits and Disadvantages of the RWC[edit]

The RWC not only benefits the host country and the IRB financially, but it also provides job opportunities to the wider community, allowing individuals to become financially stable.

However, a major draw back of such an event is that minnow nations are not financially able to compete in the bidding process making the opportunity for them to host the event impossible. Jennings (1996) links the bidding process with political corruption suggesting that nations are often required to serve personal interests of the board members.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw lifts the 2011 RWC trophy. Image by Alex Spink

Moreover, minnow nations do not have the infrastructure to host such a large scale event. A number of host nations have had to remodel their city to be able to cope with the demands of a RWC (Jones, 2001), which minnow nations would not be able to afford. The simple fact that the IRB take all the money from television rights, sponsorship deals and advertising rights during the RWC leaves host nations in debt and the only income from the event comes from ticket sales.

This places a restriction on countries that are able to compete for the hosting rights, and only financially and politically powerful countries are able to host such an event. This restricts the growth and development of minnow nations, such as Samoa, both in terms of rugby and as a country.

This greed of the IRB has resulted in the NZRU threatening to withdraw from the 2015 RWC unless a more financially viable option for the host nation is put in place (Lord, 2011).

All For the Development of the Game[edit]

The IRB may be accused of being an organisation driven by greed, however the development of rugby requires funding and the funding come from the governing board. For a sport to grow it is important to attract young athletes and produce an attitude of life-long participation in sport. The IRB are guilty of moving the game away from traditional values, however it has resulted in a global expansion of the code and increased participation at all levels. The money made by the IRB filters down to a local level assisting with development. The continual expansion of the game would not be possible if continuous money is not put back into the code.


Rugby union will get left behind by competing codes if the code is not treated like a business. The clubs at local, national and international level still have their values and beliefs, they are just new-age values. It is important to understand that at all levels of the game, the new age clubs have a number of different aspects. All clubs (even if amateur) typically need some sort of sponsorship, and in current society money is required to be able to get a club up and running. This may be a move away from the traditional values that rugby was built upon, however everything evolves and this is the way sport is heading, if you have a passion for rugby union, you will love it no matter what.