The impact of professionalisation on elite level rugby union
: players’ perspective

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The game of rugby has changed significantly in the course of its history. In the early part of the 19th century it evolved from a folk game played by ruffians to a recreational activity of custom and ritual for public schoolboys (Collins, 2009, Harris, 2010, Smart, 2009). From the 1820s rugby represented an opportunity for gentlemen to demonstrate physical prowess and masculinity and in more recent times it has developed into an activity that reflects the changing attitudes towards professional sport. For the most part of the last one hundred years, rugby union has been arguably the dominant winter sport of the British upper and middle classes, predominantly the male members of the emergent entrepreneurial class. Over the same period it became an important international sport that represented the nationalistic ideals of a number of countries (Black & Nauright, 1998; Collins, 2009; Dine, 2001; Dunning & Sheard, 2005; Ryan, 2008). However, developments within the media industry, professionalism and the transference to a business ethos within sport during the latter decades of the twentieth century exposed rugby union to the realities of commercialism and the influences of a more diverse participating and spectating public. Rugby Union had to become a sport that embraced the demands of the commercial and entertainment sectors in order to survive and develop in the modern sporting environment. This research explores the historical developments associated with the erosion of amateurism and the development of professionalism within the elite level of Rugby Union. Analysis of the development and impact of the professional game in France, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia provide a basis for comparison with the professional game’s trajectory and impact within the British Isles. Using archival sources, handbooks, interviews with players, manuals and a wide range of other sources, the thesis traces the evolution of attitudes towards professionalism from a players’ perspective and the results developed throughout argues that the very nature of the change in structure of rugby union was not so much a desired direction but rather a necessity
Date of AwardJun 2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBarry Smart (Supervisor), Chris Wagstaff (Supervisor) & Chris Hughes (Supervisor)

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