Almost two centuries after emerging from the public schools of Britain, rugby has yet to shed its elitist mentality entirely, and nowhere is this more apparent than in media coverage of the sport.
On May 12th the game witnessed another remarkable result when Brazil came from 33-3 down to stun an Argentinean XV 33-36 in Buenos Aires. This put Os Tupis in the driver’s seat for the South America title, following their first round win over Chile.
But for those cognizant only of what they read on so-called ‘international’ rugby websites this game and a dozen others played on the same day, might as well have never occurred. Chile pipped a Uruguayan XV and only a late penalty prevented a full round of upsets as Paraguay came from behind to edge newly promoted Colombia.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong won a crucial World Cup qualifying encounter with South Korea, Ghana earned promotion to the African second division with a hard-fought win over Mauritius, and China cruised to victory in Brunei. There was also plenty of action in Europe and the Caribbean.
Mainstream news sources
None of this, however, was to make it onto any of the mainstream international rugby news websites I looked at. Their only interest appeared to be European club rugby and its Southern Hemisphere (plus Tokyo Sunwolves) counterpart.
One site professing “planetary” coverage of the sport, and “news for rugby union fans of all nationalities,” featured links to 29 stories on its home page the following day – 15 about European club rugby, 14 about Super Rugby.
Moreover, should you venture onto the forums of any of these websites (not always the most receptive of environments) you are likely to encounter discussion on little else other than Super Rugby and elite European club competition.
International rugby forums – at least, those in the English language – tend to be dominated by Brits and Kiwis, in particular, with a smaller number of South Africans, Australians and Irishmen, and virtually no one else. Female participants are also rare.
Interest in the game
So does that reflect the global community’s interest in the game, or is it simply a case of chicken-and-the-egg syndrome? In other words, if there were more news on rugby from other parts of the world, would we begin to see South Americans, Pacific Islanders and Eastern Europeans getting involved with these chat forums? English is the international language, after all, and unlikely to serve as a major barrier.
One site that does provide a more sweeping view of the global landscape is World Rugby’s itself, although this is not a news domain as such and tends to be a little slow on the uptake. Its main stories are sometimes picked up by actual news sites, albeit several days after the fact, and seldom feature prominently.
The point is, more than 100 nations are affiliated to World Rugby, twenty of which will compete at its World Cup in Japan next year. There are over five million registered players, with Asia, the Americas and Rugby Africa (excluding South Africa) each boasting around 300,000 (significantly more than world champion New Zealand).
Many of these countries also have thriving club competitions, such as Spain, whose all-Valladolid final drew a crowd of around 15,000 in Valencia this year. Even the famous Barca Football Club has a team involved!
The Japanese Top League is another well-established professional competition, while Major League Rugby has made an encouraging start in the US this year, and returning to South America, Brazil now has a sprawling club rugby scene that dwarfs World Cup-qualified Uruguay’s, for example.
Interest in the game
So the interest is surely there. The time has come for the so-called ‘international’ rugby media to acknowledge this and begin to reflect the game’s growth through its coverage, rather than simply focusing on traditional rugby-playing nations and their professional club competitions.
This, in turn, will help raise the profile and prestige of rugby around the world and encourage its development. As followers of the game we might help bring this about by raising our voices and contacting rugby websites to draw attention to the matter.
Author: Quentin Poulsen
I am a former New Zealand sports writer and founder of the Wellington American football competition, which ran from the 1990s until the 2010s. I traveled to Spain to teach at the turn of the century, and have been in Turkey since 2005. During the past several years I have taken a keen interest in third tier rugby, watching countless games via live streaming.