reflections on super rugby

While more pressing matters persist in the post-lockdown world, the German Bundesliga cautiously restarts elite sport. In Ōtautahi, the Crusaders’ bus sits abandoned just off Fitzgerald Avenue — the future of Super Rugby and the Crusaders remain in question. Among other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined the neo-liberal model. Not only has it helped create an environment for such a virus, but its inability to maintain economies when a health crisis persists means it’ll be us and our tax dollars that will pay for the rescue plan throughout our working lives. Therefore, while an opportunity presents itself to radically overhaul our economies, of which this publication is engaging with, something we could do is ditch Super Rugby.  

Super Rugby has lost its appeal; empty stadiums and anti-climactic championships are now the norm. The former has its roots in the prevalence of Sky Sports cameras at every game, the latter is a structural failure. Rugby, like any business, is tied to the economy it lives within. As rugby went professional in the mid-90s, community rugby in this hemisphere was replaced by a profit-driven franchise model, removing a tangible local history from the sports team and instead instilling repurposed imagery as a sort of manufactured identity. Today, we have kiss-cams and t-shirt guns. The gentrification of the national sport has brought benefits as an industry is built around it with jobs created and taxes paid. However, gentrification has led to declining numbers of working-class men attending games, once the backbone of any sporting crown. You’ll see far more red and black in Linwood than in Fendalton. Local clubs are a vital source of belonging, identity, and agency, of which the franchise model not only inhibits but attempts to overhaul and replace with corporate branding. It is through this alienating model across our economies that gave rise to populism and far-right support, and those most susceptible to extremism’s charms are the very men being driven from their local sports stadiums.  

Thus, as Super Rugby and its carbon-heavy model become just another out-dated business. It’s now that we must overhaul Aotearoa’s domestic rugby, and return club rugby to its place as the premium rugby model. This will involve losing top earners to bigger pay checks overseas (the current model already does). More importantly, it will give communities back elite sport and make Aotearoa’s premium rugby competition strictly a domestic one. Wishing for a return to a bygone era is an ignorant thought, but a reinvigorated domestic league made for the 21st century is sorely needed. One that reflects modern Aotearoa, but also includes the groups that make up the history of our national game.  

Rugby is a sport run by dinosaurs; the re-election of Bill Beaumont as head of World Rugby despite his refusal to reform a sport gone stale since the turn of the century is clear to this point. While closer to home, any reforms will simply involve a cross-Tasman competition riddled with “derbies” every other week between ludicrously named teams.  

By Sam Risdon