Friday, 16 October 2009

Sporting Events: Passion and the masses go hand in hand in the arena of organised sporting events.

I was inspired to write this after a weekend away in Manchester watching the Super League grand final. As I am neither a Rhino nor a Saint I was free to simply experience the joy and heartache on display and feel comfortable in my passion for the game of Rugby League.

If apathy is the loss of feeling and emotion then apathy is absent in this arena (no pun intended). This for the moment does not consider the possibility that the people that love sporting events so much repress all the feelings they could be exercising through the week and instead keep it pent up for those two hours a week.

The immense sense of belonging must be considered when understanding the popularity of sporting events. A myth that accompanies that of people being naturally apathetic is that contemporary people do not want to speak to each other. For the duration of the game, however many thousands of people that are watching the game simultaneously act and feel almost as one. They go through the same ups and downs, scream and shout at the same referee. After the match they will share comments and theories with complete strangers of what went right or wrong– including fans of the opposition (this exists before and after rugby league games, football fans may not be able to fathom this).

It must be noted that the absence of apathy on the terraces does not always infect the pitch or more appropriately, the locker room. A case must certainly be made for footballers more often than not being far more motivated by their pay packet than by the love and passion for the game.

In comparison to this (admittedly shallow) generalisation of footballers, the game of Rugby League oozes the passion and emotion from the terraces onto the pitch. This was blatantly displayed by the amount of 18 stone men weeping their eyes out at Old Trafford after the game last weekend (on both the winning and losing sides). Kevin Sinfield (captain of the Leeds Rhinos who won the game and therefore the Super League) embodied this in his post match interview after being named man of the match. Whilst struggling to get his words through the lump in his throat he gave special mention to the players that have stayed at Leeds despite the salary cap system (see below) not allowing them Leeds to pay what these players could potentially be worth. This shows that many of these players have turned down the opportunity to go to other clubs who would be able to pay them more money in order for them to stay at a club where they can play the sport that they love at the very top of the game. This flaunts in the faces of those who imagine that money talks and that it is infallible when compared to dreams and passion.

An explanation must be made of this salary cap system for those unfamiliar. A rugby league team is only allowed to spend a certain amount of money on its players, so that a situation cannot arise where one team can buy the league year after year i.e. Wigan in the 1990s (prior to the salary cap) or what is clearly visible in Premiership football. I do not know the exact science of the calculation but the salary cap is based on factors such as attendance, so clubs are rewarded for the way they promote rugby league in their town/city. I have been informed that the American NFL also has a very fair and uncharacteristically socialist system, considering it is in the free market capitalism capital of the world.

The same goes for those rugby league players that surrendered generous offers to switch codes to the richer, snootier rugby union.

Rugby League also has a progressive status of fighting against the outdated notion that sporting events are a safe haven for men to be free of their nagging wives. This understanding that has existed throughout and prior to the 20th century is being broken down; with rugby league leading the way in its invitation for women to join in this outpour of emotion passion and experience. As noted in this Australian article by Amy Lawson from 2005.
“Research reveals an equal number of women and men attend games. Leading the way were young women, with 17 per cent of females in the 16- to 29-year-old age group attending games last year, compared with 13 per cent of males.” (see

Ok so this rant went from the passion of sporting events, to the passion in rugby league. This prejudice was due to my passion for that sport; my knowledge of the social and cultural aspects of other sport fandom is very limited and I invite anyone reading this to challenge my sweeping statements about spoilt footballers and haughty rugby union players or alternatively comment on illogical and irrational actions you have committed or feelings you have felt whilst at sporting events.

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