Emotional tribal clash ripe for exploitation

19:48, Jul 23 2013
Joe Bennett
Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.

Here's your current affairs question for the week, writes Joe Bennett.

Who said, "You don't presume anything in this industry"? If you know, bravo and have a biscuit. If not, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that as far as I am aware no-one has remarked upon the remark. But let me begin at the beginning.

The pale men came down from the North. Warriors they were, bearing the honour of the Anglo- Saxon tribe and the names of their ancestors, the ancient pedigrees of chilly lands, names that sang of the conquerors of old, names like Corbisiero and Tuilagi and Vunipola. For these were the British and Irish Lions. (Though why lions I cannot tell you, for lions are indigenous to neither Britain nor Ireland. The British and Irish Badgers would have been more zoologically and geographically apt. Or perhaps Squirrels.) But anyway, they brought with them an army. The army was 30,000 strong and dressed in red tunics. Across the chest of each tunic was emblazoned the sacred inscription HSBC. H stood for Hong Kong, S for Shanghai, B for Banking and C for Corporation. And the 30,000 were loud in their singing and heroic in their beer consumption.

At the head of the Lions, urging them to great deeds, stood Mr W Gatland, a native of New Zealand.

They came to challenge the might of the great Southern Ocean, the men of Australia, the Wallabies, a title more zoologically apt, though admittedly less warlike. Wallabies are timid and herbivorous, and not even given to boxing, as are their relatives, the kangaroos. But sadly, the kangaroos had already been adopted by the national rugby league team.

The Wallabies, proud champions of a vast and sun- kissed continent, also derived mainly from Anglo-Saxon stock, their forefathers having colonised these lands a century or two ago. But that century or two were sufficient for them to have evolved into a distinct tribe and a worthy foe for their northern cousins.


(It might be observed at this point that few of the indigenous people of the Southern land, the people most truly Australian, have taken to rugby union. Why? I don't know.) And at the head of the Wallabies, urging them to great deeds, stood Mr R Deans. Like Mr Gatland and, indeed, like several players on either side, he is a native of New Zealand.

Three battles took place. Victory went first to the Lions and great was the jubilation among the 30,000. The second joust went to the Wallabies. At the final whistle, the cameras swung to their captain who stands 2 metres tall and is built like an apartment block. He fell to his knees, his face crumpled like a baby's and he wept with joy.

And so to the deciding event. Eighty thousand watched from the stands, 80 million from sofas. But the contest proved one-sided. When the whistle blew, the 30,000 took a vow to drink Sydney dry and Mr Gatland was seen grinning. Mr Deans sagged. Then he dragged himself to a press conference. I've seen more cheerful corpses.

A reporter asked if he thought he'd keep his job. Mr Deans replied, "You don't presume anything in this industry", which is where we came in.

He meant, of course, that he presumed he'd be sacked. And he presumed right. But what no-one has remarked on is his choice of the word "industry". Can he be right? Has international rugby, the amicable pseudo-war between nations, become an industry, a mere commercial venture?

Well, an industry makes things or provides services that people are willing to pay for. And millions of people wanted the rugby and paid for it directly or indirectly. So yes. And because it is a money-making industry, money has perverted it. So much is at stake that countries now acquire players and coaches from wherever they can.

So what can we presume about this industry? Can we presume that the process will continue and escalate? Can we presume that it will become like football or gridiron, where almost none of the players for Manchester United or the Pittsburgh Steelers come from Manchester or Pittsburgh? Can we presume that the devotees won't care, that tribalism will remain a potent emotion to be exploited commercially, that absurdity won't matter a jot, as long as the crowd is entertained?

The answer to all these is yes.

And can we further presume that people are already looking forward to the next Lions tour which will take place in New Zealand?

Well, I am, for one.

The Southland Times