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October 4, 2011

About rugby and the World Rugby Cup

Though dating back to the 1700s, rugby originates with the industrial working class formed during the industrial revolution in Britain, whose collective spirit and organization is reflected athletically in its offensive and defensive mass formations such as the scrum, the fluid teamwork and sacrifice demanded instantaneously of players on the fly, and its community base. This is not a sport where every play is dictated by a coach on the sidelines such as North American football, which derives from rugby.

Its expansion has been mainly throughout the British imperial bloc of the United Kingdom (especially in the north, as well as amongst the Scottish, Welsh and Irish nations), Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa yet is also played in such countries as Rumania and Georgia. Italy and France both boast professional leagues, while the “French difference” has also given rise to a unique style of play recognized and applauded both by the French themselves and by their international opponents, le rugby-fête or le rugby-champagne. [1]

Rugby in Canada originates directly from the occupation by the British army. The first organized match was by British troops in Montreal in 1865. Today rugby is played exclusively on an amateur basis by some 40,000 Canadians, including more and more junior women, from St. John’s to Victoria. In 2006 Canada hosted the 2006 Women's World Cup of Rugby. The Canadian men’s team is ranked 11th in the word.

The first World Cup was played in 1987 and this year’s event includes 20 nations. Rugby vies with cricket in being called the third most popular sports event in the world after the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup. Seven-a-side rugby has recently been added by the IOC to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The two other principal events are hemispheric national team competitions such as the annual Six Nations -- involving the European sides of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales, and backed by the Royal Bank of Scotland  -- or the annual Tri Nations -- New Zealand, Australia, South Africa with Argentia cleared to join in 2012, making the series the Four Nations. Neither are run by the IRB. The Churchill Cup held annually in June is contested by representative men’s (and formerly women’s) teams from Canada, England, the United States, and other invited teams (originally one and later three) from a wide array of countries. The final edition in 2011 featured teams from Italy, Russia, and Tonga. In 2012 the IRB will include the USA and Canada in its international Test calendar.

The corruption in World Rugby Cup scheduling, detailed in a separate article in this edition of The Canadian Charger, are dictated by the global sports media for whom sport has long been, as Robert Murdoch told the company’s annual general meeting in 1996, a “battering ram” against all media rivals, because “sport absolutely overpowers film and everything else in the entertainment genre.”

International rugby, like other sports, has a set of regulatory bodies at the op of which is the International Rugby Board (IRB) that are responsible for upholding the laws of the game, sanctioning competitions, setting the code and program for development and standards, and supervising the relations between the various national regulatory bodies called unions. The IRB was originally formed in 1884 by Ireland, Scotland and Wales against England, which initially refused to join unless it could dictate terms, a relationship which has not changed. It now includes 119 national unions.

Murdoch: World domination through rugby and sport

The double standards in scheduling in the World Rugby Cup are dictated by the global sports media for whom sport has long been, as Robert Murdoch told the company’s annual general meeting in 1996, a “battering ram” against all media rivals, because “sport absolutely overpowers film and everything else in the entertainment genre.”

It was Murdoch who commercialized rugby with gold, the last “major” sport to maintain its amateur status, exacerbating the split between the Rugby Union (amateur) and Rugby League (professional) and reducing healthy and positive sport to entertainment, without any concern for those who participate in or support the game.

By following the formula he employed in his native Australia to take control of that country’s rugby leagues, building his Australian media empire on the backs of sports, he was able to transform it into one of the five most powerful global media corporations, making finance, media and information one.

Murdoch’s New Corporation invested huge amounts of money to bribe national administrations, teams and players; take over rugby leagues (as in Australia, a “Super League” competition of 12 national teams, which became the NRL); acquire whole teams; acquire exclusive broadcasting rights on a national and international plane (as in Britain and New Zealand), restructure the competition and scheduling according to its market; and even dictate changes in the laws of the game to make it “quicker” for the requirements of TV. From rugby his tentacles reached into football (soccer), baseball, and cricket in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Sport was Murdoch’s vehicle to expand his pay TV subscriber base, secure multi-million dollar profits, and build a global media empire that includes the Wall Street Journal and Fox TV with the known results of corruption, disinformation and subversion of the political process to push Thatcherism, de-regulation and privatization, American foreign policy, Israel, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and jingoism. [2]

When media corporations buy into sports or become “media partners”, news coverage is inevitably skewed and editorial boards invariably champion the demands of big business or the particular sports teams they own. For example, the story of the outrageous scheduling conflict in the 2011 World Rugby Cup in spots pages of the Globe and Mail, a “media partner,” is noticeable by its absence. Readers have posted online comments denouncing its “world cup drivel.” (Thomson Corp., owners of the Globe, also owns the new Winnipeg Jets franchise in the National Hockey League. Before that, BellGlobeMedia, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto First Choice, Toronto Marlies, two stadiums, two TV channels), CTV, TSN, etc., all shared common ownership.)

Rugby World Cup Limited

The IRB has a corporate body, the Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL), to organize its highest level of competition. This has become a multimillion dollar enterprise, with the IRB determining which countries and corporations are granted access to massive profits through hosting the Games. The IRB and its set of sponsoring monopolies, like the IOC and FIFA (whose board of directors sometimes interlock), acts as a sports cartel. It uses the world cup to shut down their economic competitors, e.g., those who have bought into national rugby unions; the New Zealand All Blacks, even though they are hosting the tournament, are required to block out messages of their corporate sponsors which are in competition with the monopolies associated with the IRB. The IRB even demands the host nation provide at least one 60,000 stadium, and the 2011 event is expected to cost about NZ$310 million to run and to generate NZ$280 million in ticket sales. [3] Incredibly, New Zealand will get little of this. The WRG is the largest sporting event ever held in New Zealand; in Auckland, the city where many of the most important games will take place, the costs to the local ratepayers alone has been estimated at $102 million. [4] And this is a country with rising unemployment, inflation and discrimination against migrant labour.

The first World Cup was played in 1987 and this year’s event includes 20 nations. Seven-a-side rugby has recently been added by the IOC to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The first round, or pool stage, sees the twenty teams divided into four pools of five teams. Each pool is a round-robin of ten games, where each team plays one match against each of the other teams in the same pool. Teams are awarded four points for a win, two points for a draw and none for a defeat. A team scoring four or more tries in one match will score a bonus point, as will a team who lose by seven points or fewer. The teams finishing in the top two of each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. The top three teams of each pool will receive automatic qualification to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The schedule of games runs over seven weeks starting on 9 September 2011. The final will be played on Sunday 23 October 2011, a date chosen because it falls on a long weekend caused by the New Zealand public holiday of Labour Day, according to Wikipedia.

Interestingly, the demands of professionalism has lead to a weighty increase in the size of players. The average back (generally the smaller, faster players) is between ten and fifteen kilograms (22-33 pounds) heavier today than ten years ago, according to a 2005 BBC report. This has increased the threat to the well-being of players.

Rooting for the home team

The All Blacks have not won the World Cup since 1987 but analysts say 2011 is “New Zealand’s to lose.” When the playing field has been tilted towards the home side that indeed is a mouthful.

The opening ceremonies of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand with a pronounced Maori theme was deceptive and beguiling. New Zealand does field more indigenous athletes in one rugby side in one tournament than Canada has in all Olympian sports over perhaps the past decade and more and boasts all-Maori teams. But it is to be remembered that the indomitable Haka, the traditional Maori war dance performed since 1905 by the All Blacks before the start of every international match, was as stolen and co-opted as Maori humanity, dignity, culture and land. In the rousing dance, the entire team of 15 players line up on the pitch opposite their rivals and act out a ritual that was once used by Maori tribesmen to celebrate their survival in battle.

However, the Maori have been pushed aside in the cause of profiteering. The ancestors of the ancient Maori tribe that created the specific dance the team uses — the Ka Mate Haka, or “Tis Death, Tis Death” — want it back. The Ngati Toa tribe, which hails from the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, has trademarked phrases that form part of the song that the rugby players chant when performing the dance. [4]

They may have to contend with Adidas, the German sportswear multinational which has commercialized the famed dance as part of branding the All Blacks and apparently changed it slightly according to its needs. The pursuit of profit in sport seems unrelenting.

Tony Seed, a former features writer with the Globe and Mail, is co-author (with Curtis Coward) of The Kids’ Baseball Book, past president of the Nova Scotia Cricket Association, and a certified coach in baseball, cricket and basketball, which he still plays in the Halifax grandmasters’ league. He welcomes comments at tonyseed@bellaliant.net

Visit his at http://amateursport.wordpress.com

Endnotes

1        Philip Dine, Money, Identity and Conflict: Rugby League in France

2        See Robert Hoffman and John Roberts, “Australian court endorses Murdoch takeover of rugby league,” 10 January 2001, World Socialist web site, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/jan2001/nrl-j10.shtml; John Pilger, “Welcome to the world’s first murdochracy,” 11 March 2010, http://www.johnpilger.com/articles/welcome-to-the-world-s-first-murdochracy

3        “World Cup 2011 tickets won’t come cheap”. nzherald.com. 24 August 2007.

4        “Ratepayers to pick up $900,000 tab for giant TV screens”. The New Zealand Herald. 14 June 2011

5                   “Wall Street Journal discusses the Haka and the Rugby World Cup,” 18 December 2010, http://news.tangatawhenua.com/archives/8709

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