Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Musings on the Rugby World Cup 2015

Australians and New Zealanders are, to put it mildly, sports mad. The photo shows the All Blacks' haka at Cardiff prior to their game against Georgia at Cardiff watched by (among 72,000 others), eldest and myself. I fear I share that addiction.

I thought of this as Helen and I moved across Copenhagen and the UK watching Rugby World Cup games as we went in pubs and clubs, some live. Of course, we had to take selfies as we went. Helen's caption reads: "Final game live - not so secretly hoping to see the All Blacks run amuck
😉 — Tsk. That girl! Never catch me saying things like that!

One side effect of all this is that Australians and New Zealanders support their national teams regardless of sport. They also tend to cheer for each other except when playing the other. Mind you, as a half Kiwi I split my loyalties. I cheer for Australia in the Rugby Union, but support New Zealand in the Rugby League! 

Sports obsession means that both turn out in droves to cheer their national teams in any sport regardless of the sport. This provides a base that supports a remarkable number of sports at top level. Australia's population is about 24 million. That's quite small for a country that supports globally competitive teams in rugby union, rugby league, soccer, cricket, netball and hockey, to name just a few, in both men's and women's sport. Then you have Australian Rules. Relative to the size of its population, New Zealand arguably does even better.  

When you drop below this, however, tribalism rules. Australian support particular sports and oppose others, unless of course the national team is playing. Australians in particular areas support particular sports. Soccer, the use of which term immediately reveals my affiliations, has national appeal, but no dominance in any particular geographic area. By contrast, Rugby League is strongest in NSW and Queensland, Australian Rules in the southern states. Rugby Union is strongest in NSW and Queensland, but is generally a minority sport - the leather arm patches. Cricket or netball are equally spread.  

The varied sporting landscape combined with the sums of money involved and the competition between codes makes for a very competitive business environment. Each code seeks to extend its dominance across the nation. For its part, women's sport in general attempts to establish its own position, one in which men and women will receive equal reward. There have been big changes here and I expect more to come.  

Of all the sporting codes present in Australia, soccer is the truly global code in terms of reach (and money). This is followed by rugby union. The global rankings for Australian rules lists some 20 playing countries, the global rankings for rugby league lists 36 playing countries, the global rankings for rugby union lists 102 countries. Importantly, the top union group has more countries with more coming though the ranks than either league or Aussie rules. Union is evolving into a truly global game.

The atmosphere at this World Cup was truly remarkable. It was simply fun.There are two rounds to go, and then it's time to switch to Japan and the next World Cup. In the meantime, go the Wallabies!  

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