Sunday, November 19, 2006

100 years of French rugby

While reading the French daily Le Monde, I learned that today marks the centenary celebration of rugby in France. The Gironde, the southwest region of France where we live, lays claim to being the place where French rugby first took root.

Apparently it was imported here from England by elements of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie who, themselves anglophiles, hoped to reinvigorate the social values of hard work, fair play, teamwork etc…that were (in their minds at least) on the decline at the end of the nineteenth century. Rugby was embraced in this part of France initially as part of a campaign to introduce physical fitness into the public schools. Thus despite it’s early artistocratic origins, it quickly became the adopted sport of the working class and it also played into the politics of regional identity…it was yet another way for the outlying regions of France to distinguish and distance themselves from Paris.

The evolution of the sport led to a rather swift embrace of violent play (fair play by contrast lost some of its popular appeal), and an attendant appetite for violence among its supporters…in the 30’s this violence led to a nearly ten year cessation of matches between French teams and those of England and Ireland.

The game of rugby has become today a very technical sport, one that requires team tactics that can only be developed through rigorous and repetitive practice. It is a far cry from the more improvisational game of football (soccer), and is certainly not the “beautiful game” celebrated by the Brazilians.

Immigrants from Africa and elsewhere tend to gravitate toward football. As a result, the face of rugby is far less diverse here in France than that of football. Interestingly, the New Zealand national rugby team just completed a tour (“drubbing” is the more accurate term, I think) of France and a series of exhibitions against the French national squad.

The New Zealanders are called the “All-Blacks”. Fittingly, they sport all black shorts and shirts. They are the Oakland Raiders of rugby. Many of their players are of Maori origins and the team in its pre-game rituals engages in a kind of traditional war dance replete with screams and chest thumping and wild eyed, tongue lolling expressions intended to whip themselves and their fans into a frenzy and to plant the seeds of doubt into the hearts of their adversaries. Having seen only a
video clip of this in practice, I can nonetheless attest to it being an impressive display of testosterone induced mania…these are big beefy men preparing for mayhem wearing no more protection than a polo shirt…(I should add that the team in red in the video clip is not the French team)
The article closed with the kind of sarcastic observation about the French team that long-suffering sports fans of teams like the Chicago Cubs mights appreciate. In the spirit of looking at the bright side, it quoted a proverb..."Qui dort par terre ne craint pas la chute." (Those who sleep on the ground need not fear falling out of bed.)

p.s. this post features my very first attempt at creating a link to another site within my own text...I'm curious to know if it worked. all you computer types out there can stop snickering already...


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