Wednesday 10 March 2010

The Postmodernisation of Rugby Union in Australia... wait, what?

Sometimes when are you are not looking, you stumble across gold. I was browsing through Google Scholar looking for an entirely work-related article today when I came across The Postmodernisation of Rugby Union in Australia published in the august journal Football Studies.

(As a side note, you can do an Honours Degree in Football Studies at Southampton Solent University. And Sydney University used to offer Cricket and the Law which was unfortunately cut before I could do it. I digress...)

Throughout my time as a rugby fan, I have given the game a great deal of thought - how the rules could be changed, whether the domestic game should expand into new states and countries, will the Waratahs ever win - but I must admit to having never thought of the effect of postmodern philosophy on rugby. I should have. This paper is a surprisingly interesting take on the evolution of the game.

Tahs vs HighlandersPostmodernism is defined, in the paper, thus:

Postmodernism represents a realisation that there is no single truth but multiple realities, all are legitimate and all equally valid; that individuals, societies and economies are not governed solely by instrumental reason but are subject to historical and cultural processes that cannot be explained by reason alone; that the human being is not necessarily the centre of the universe; that modernism is itself and egregious male oriented conceptualisation of the world and has consistently retarded female participation in human affairs (hence the emergence postmodern feminism); that capitalism is not the only desirable form of economic order; that progress does not mean marching linearly toward a predetermined goal; that the quality of life need not be measured in economic and material terms only; and that in human affairs aesthetic judgement is just as important as economic judgement.

Eh? Essentially this comes down to the idea that there is no one preferred way of doing things or making sense of the world. What does this mean for sport? During the preindustrial era, sport was unorganised and local. Violence was tolerated and sport was closely connected to the customs of the community. There were no governing bodies and the local town or village was the focal point of a tribal passion.

However, with capitalism came a transformation of sport, with violent and disorganised sports giving way to carefully regulated sports that were adapted to the constraints of time and space of the industrial city. By the end of the 1970s, sponsorship and media rights rivalled gate receipts, and television had created an audience that was a hundred times larger than ground attendance. Spectators and viewers were attracted as much to spectacular, time compressed contests, as they were to the traditional tribal performances of the past. This is highlighted by cricket's postmodernisation with World Series Cricket. Sport became entangled in a complex web of commercial arrangements, legal constraints and marketing deals.

Rugby was slow to come to the postmodern party due to its ties to its old-school traditions (remember, Rugby is named as such because it was first invented at the exclusive 'Rugby School' in the town of Rugby - many other British public schools had their own games played by no one else.) Finally by the 1990s, rugby decided its amateur traditions were no longer appropriate or relevant to its players or its fans.

Rugby SchoolThe authors conclude that postmodernism has removed the traditional metaphysical, mythical and social barriers that were thought to have divided business from sport (come on, you were just thinking that...) Rugby during the 1990s shows how traditional sporting values and practices were undermined by the postmodern forces of global consumer capitalism. Rugby's foundation of amateur values could not be sustained under the weight of global commercial forces. The rules and playing schedules had to change to meet the needs of customers and TV viewers. Simply put, the game had to managed not only as a sport, but also as a business.

Have a read the original article - it's a good read! The evolution of rugby is an interesting read for rugby fans and culture buffs alike. Sometimes it's nice to indulge some philosophy when you have your head in numbers all day!


  1. "Postmodernism represents a realisation that there is no single truth but multiple realities, all are legitimate and all equally valid"

    An observation Mr Speaker:

    Does postmodernism include the 'reality' that postmodernism is false as element of its set of multiple realities? Is this equally valid to the statement that postmodernism is true?

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