The Journal of Sport and Exercise Studies/Business, Politics and Sport 2011/The Intersection of Politics and Business in Rugby Union
Since entering the post-modern era, professionalism has clouded the world of sport. Rugby union has been no exception to its merciless growth, particularly in the 21st century. The ruthless rise of professionalism has been the precursor of rugby union drawing parallel to the realms of politics and business.
Rugby entered the professional marketplace to avoid being left “behind as a fossilised relic of a gentlemanly age that had gone” (Laidlaw, 2010). Indeed, it avoided being left behind. More than a decade on from rugby’s addition to the bazaar, the sport has become fond bedfellows with politics and business.
As rugby has continued to grow in its professionalism, politics and business, and how they intersect within the sport, have become entrenched within all facets of the game – international, national and local.
The amendments of rugby’s rules and the implementation of such changes by the International Rugby Board (IRB), has ensured rugby union remains an attractive product within the marketplace, thus helping it to remain a viable business on an international scale.
Sponsorship ensures adequate financial backing for national rugby competitions, allowing such competitions to flourish.
The inception of judicial committees in local levels of rugby, aimed at minimising illegal and foul play within the game, has contributed a steady income, enabling the sport’s smallest sector to remain afloat.
Business and politics, undoubtedly, intersect within the 15-a-side game.
As societies worldwide are presided over by a government, rugby, too, has its own governing body. The IRB is the world governing and lawmaking body for the sport. Of its four main functions, perhaps the IRB’s most significant role is the “governance of the Laws and Regulations and their enforcement” (International Rugby Board). This role ultimately determines how successful the sport is both on and off the rugby pitch.
As governments around the world continually legislate more rules, the IRB is no different. Calls for amendments to rugby’s rule book surfaced in the mid 2000s. Such amendments were dubbed as experimental law variations (ELVs) and were first trialled at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University in 2006. Following the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the sport’s global showpiece event, the ELVs came to wider prominence. Outgoing IRB president Syd Millar expressed the need for amendments because delays in the release of the ball from the contest for possession were having adverse effects on the game (Rugby Football History, 2007).
The IRB announced in 2008 that its Council had approved a global trial of ELVs. For a period of 12 months, commencing 1 August 2008, all levels of rugby union were to trial 13 of the 23 approved variations to rugby’s current laws. Following the trial period, 10 of the 13 trialled rule variations were implemented into Law on 23 May 2009 (The Telegraph, 2009);
• Law 6 - assistant referees allowed;
• Law 19 - Kicking directly into touch from ball played back into 22 equals no gain in ground;
• Law 19 - Quick (lineout) throw permitted in any direction except forward;
• Law 19 - Positioning of player in opposition to the player throwing in to be two metres away from lineout and the line of touch;
• Law 19 - Pre-gripping of lineout jumpers allowed;
• Law 19 - Lifting in the lineout allowed;
• Law 19 - Positioning of receiver must be two metres away from lineout;
• Law 20 - Five-metre offside line at the scrum;
• Law 20 - Scrum-half offside line at the scrum;
• Law 22 - Corner posts no longer touch in goal.
Head of the IRB’s Referee Board Paddy O’Brien stated that before the adoption of the ELVs, rugby was not subject to the laws of the game and the constant blowing of the referee’s whistle was enough to “send the spectators out of the ground” (Harlow, 2006). When rugby went professional, it became a business and if it were to lose the support of its clientele, it would be left in a vulnerable position in the marketplace.
This is where politics and business intersected on rugby’s international stage. The introduction of said ELVs by the IRB has ensured that rugby remained an attractive product and has since seen business thrive in the international bazaar. The game is now simplified, faster and a more open “product” on the pitch (Harlow, 2006). It is also more entertaining according to Stellenbosch University Rugby Club president Jourie Roux, who saw the ELVs trialled before the rest of the rugby world (Harlow, 2006).
This year’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) tournament in New Zealand, the first to be played since the introduction of the amended laws, produced $NZ268.7 million (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2011) in ticket sale revenue with two matches still left to be played. The figure exceeded Rugby New Zealand’s target of $NZ268.5 million (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2011) set two years ago. Overall, 87% of available tickets were sold at the tournament (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2011) and the showpiece event attracted 100,000 visitors from around the world (Rugby World Cup, 2011). Furthermore, RWC 2011 was broadcast in more than 200 territories worldwide, more than any previous Rugby World Cup tournament (Rugby World Cup, 2011). Indeed, international rugby seems to be more a more entertaining product post the implementation of the ELVs.
In 2010 (post the introduction of the ELVs), average attendance figures for the southern hemispheres and the northern hemisphere’s pinnacle international events, Tri Nations and Six Nations tournaments respectively, eclipsed the average attendance recorded at 2007 RWC matches (pre the introduction of the ELVs). 49,111 spectators attended nine Tri Nations matches in 2010 and an average of 70,351 spectators were on hand for each the 15 Six Nations fixtures in the same year, while the average attendance at the 48 RWC games in 2007 was 47,376 (Wikipedia, 2011).
The amendments made to rugby’s laws and the introduction of them by the IRB indeed shows the intersection of politics and business within the 15-a-side game, and as a result, the sport has since benefitted at an international level.
There was a time when rugby had no external support. It was, essentially, valueless to the outside world. But with the arrival of professionalism came the commoditisation of rugby. Sponsorship of the sport all of a sudden became an option. Now, rugby and sponsorship are synonymous with one another.
Sponsorship within rugby has been defined as a “relationship between a provider of funds, resources or services and an individual, event or organisation which offers in return some rights and associations that may be used for commercial advantage” (Rugby Australia).
Competitions are now sponsored by globally recognised organisations, even on a national scale. The inception of sponsorship within rugby’s national realm has been brought on by the growing pressures of professionalism and the need for the game to keep pace with other global sports.
Sponsorship is dealt with by the national body and the steps involved in the process have been outlined; (Rugby Australia)
1. Setting up a sponsorship plan that outlines the various options available to sponsors;
2. Sponsorship proposal – is developed to target a sponsor or group of sponsors;
3. Sponsorship agreement – a formalized partnership agreement securing the sponsorship for your club/Association;
4. Final checklist to ensure that the process is complete.
Businesses require money to stay afloat, remain competitive and to make improvements to products. Rugby on a national scale is no exception.
The successful completion of the sponsorship process portrays the intersection of politics and business, as the money needed for national rugby to thrive is supplied by sponsorship.
In 2008, ABSA, a consumer bank in South Africa, renewed its long-standing sponsorship of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier domestic rugby competition (Biz Community, 2008).
Angie Burton, GM, group marketing at ABSA, said of the sponsorship renewal: “From a business perspective, the ABSA Currie Cup sponsorship creates an opportunity for the rugby public to interact with and experience the ABSA brand through various leveraging and marketing activities” (Biz Community, 2008).
A sponsorship deal worth £20m saw Premiership Rugby, England’s top-flight national competition, become The Guinness Premiership in 2005 (Morning Advertiser, 2005). The deal was aimed at enhancing “the fans’ experience as much as possible” and “to grow the club game in England still further” (Morning Advertiser, 2005).
In 2010, Premiership Rugby announced a four-year sponsorship deal with Aviva, who would replace Guinness as its title sponsor, worth £20m. It was intended that the joining of the two would lead to “significant investment into community programs” (The Guardian, 2010).
The inception of sponsorship within rugby’s national realm was perhaps a necessity. Governing organisations saw the need for sponsorship to maintain the high standard of national competition seen in England and South Africa. Sponsorship has enabled national rugby union to remain a viable business in which the public interact with, highlighting the intersection of politics and business on the sport’s national stage.
Since the advent of professionalism, rugby has become more competitive and the thirst for victory is stronger than ever before. In a team’s quest for glory, its players will do anything to achieve magnificence and to satisfy the demands and expectations of fans and coaches alike. The actions of players, though, are not always within the laws of the game, even at rugby’s local levels. In an attempt to combat the illegal and foul play committed by players, local rugby union bodies have established internal judiciaries.
New South Wales Suburban Rugby Union’s (NSWSRU) Judiciary deals with “all protests, disputes, misconduct or other matters stipulated in the Union’s Objects and Rules, these Competition Rules, the Code of Conduct or such items referred to it by the Board or the Executive Director” (New South Wales Suburban Rugby Union, 2011).
New South Wales Country Rugby Union’s (NSWCRU) Judiciary Committee determines all matters arising from: “Orderings off from the playing enclosure; Citings by the Citing Commissioner; Breaches of the Code of Conduct; Citings by the Chief Executive Officer; Any dispute referred by the Board” (New South Wales Country Rugby Union, 2010).
Similarly, Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) holds the following as warranting disciplinary action from its Judiciary: “When a Player is Ordered Off the playing enclosure; When a Player is cited for an act or acts of Illegal and/or Foul Play; When a Player has been Temporarily Suspended three times in accordance with Regulation 17.20; When an act or acts of Misconduct may have been committed by a Union, Player or Person” (Queensland Rugby Union, 2003).
Since their inception, local rugby judiciaries have played a large part in minimising the number of cases in which players commit illegal and foul play. While one would hope local union bodies introduced such committees purely to maintain the sport’s clean image, other agendas are strongly evident. Just as rugby is a business on the international and national stage, it is, too, at a local level. While local rugby is insufficiently backed fiscally by sponsors and other corporate bodies, much unlike the sport’s two upper tiers, the presence and operation of judiciaries ensures an income.
Players and participants summoned to a judicial hearing have the opportunity to appeal a decision made by a judicial committee, but for a price.
NSWCRU grants players the right of appeal. A cheque for $200.00 made out in favour of the Union must be lodged with the appeal. Referees, too, have the right of appeal, and must also include a cheque for $200.00 when lodging an appeal (New South Wales Country Rugby Union, 2010).
QRU also allows players and participants the right of appeal from any decision of a Judicial Committee. Each notice of appeal must be accompanied with a deposit of $250.00 (Queensland Rugby Union, 2006).
The presence and operation of judiciaries essentially highlights one of the intersections of business and politics in local rugby. Its mere existence and policies, put in place by governing bodies, is a catalyst for some of the sport’s income in its local sector.
Since its turn to professionalism, rugby union has become inseparable from the realms of politics and business and the intersection of the two within the sport is evident at every level – international, national and local.
On the international scale, the IRB’s amendments to rugby’s rule book have created a more open and entertaining product. This has increased the sport’s appeal and as a result, rugby is thriving within the international bazaar.
The commoditisation of rugby since the arrival of professionalism has seen the sport, at a national level, combine with sponsorship and benefit because of it.
The implementation of judiciaries and their policies at rugby’s local level provides the sport’s smallest sector with a source of income, enabling it to remain viable.
Indeed, politics and business intersect within rugby’s international, national and local levels. The arrival of professionalism, one could argue, was the precursor of their involvement within the sport. As a result, rugby union has flourished since the attachment was formed and has most certainly avoided being left “behind as a fossilised relic of a gentlemanly age that had gone” (Laidlaw, 2010).
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