The game is not the same: a history of professional rugby in New Zealand
Martin, Gerard John
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Rugby, an intensely physical team game that emphasised the contribution of players of disparate skills and strengths, was ideal for New Zealand's early European pioneers. It also suited the nature of the indigenous people. Rugby club competitions and provincial matches provided a significant social fulcrum and a means of playing out regional rivalries. Arduous, but ultimately successful rugby tours to Britain and Ireland, brought Pakeha and Maori together and helped to shape the young colony's self-image. New Zealand's commitment to its national game became instrumental in rugby's steadily growing international popularity.Although rugby had significant commercial appeal, it remained an amateur sport in deference to its British originators. Nevertheless, New Zealand's hosting of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 coincided with the development of global media networks. By the third Rugby World Cup tournament in 1995, substantial commercial interest in the game meant that a transition to a professional structure was inevitable. Rugby appealed to media conglomerates needing new televisual product that would attract subscribers to growing pay-TV networks.Although the introduction of professionalism was a major commercial success, the commercial imperatives imposed allowed rugby to be dominated by those with the most financial and player resources. As a consequence, New Zealand's traditional advantages were diluted. This generated considerable tension between New Zealand's professional game and its amateur grassroots level that has been rugby's traditional base. While supplying the game's players and supporters, grassroots rugby has been the level of the game most vulnerable to the negative impact of professionalisation.To generate the income to adequately fund the game's grassroots, it is critical that New Zealand's leading teams remain among the world's best. However, the professionalisation of rugby has made winning far more difficult than ever before. New Zealand rugby's challenge is to mitigate the commercial imperatives that place it at a significant disadvantage in the international game.