So you want to watch rugby, but you’re a wimpy North American…

November 6, 2011

The field looks chaotic.  Carry the ball across the line to score 5 points, kick the ball through the uprights for 2 or 3 points; but where is the ball?  It is under the bodies.  The whistle sounds; why?  It is often difficult to tell, and not just for novices.  Learning rugby can be confusing and even overwhelming, although it seems as simple as most sports when broken down.  The biggest difference between rugby and North American sports is that you pass the ball backwards not forwards.  Canadian comedian Rick Mercer recently spent some time with that country’s team just back from the world cup and nicely explained and demonstrated the basics.

The Rugby World Cup began in 1987, though the Six Nations Championship, centered in the United Kingdom, started back in 1883.  The World Cup is one of the largest sporting events in the world, and the tournament lasts about two months. The first month is pool play and the second month is the playoffs.  20 teams make it to the World Cup of the 93 teams around the world with an official ranking.  This year both the United States and Canada made it, though Argentina was the only South American team (they made it to the first round of the playoffs before being beaten by New Zealand). There are many teams from Europe, some from Africa and many from Oceana. Canada has only once made it to playoff round in 1991.

When they land, you find out what the helmets and ear-wraps are for.

The Rugby World Cup tournament is organized into 4 pools with 5 teams in each. The first two teams in each pool advance to playoffs. However, there are also advantages to coming third in the pool. This had been the Canadian goal, which they were not able to meet, in part due to Tonga’s upset win against France (the French advanced anyway to finish second in the tournament). Both Canada, ranked 13th,  and the United States, 17th, are expected to make it to the next world cup. There should also be a chance for some north American players to get more experience on the world stage with the introduction of sevens rugby into the Olympics set for 2016.

Hopefully there will be some time devoted to showing the games on North American television. TSN did a good job with coverage this world cup in Canada, playing not just Canadian games and the playoffs but many of the regular pool play games as well.  In the small little pre and post game shows the commentators were optimistic about the future of rugby in this part of the world. In a culture where sport does seem to flourish hopefully there is room for one more.  After all, big league rugby has never had a ‘work stoppage.’  That’s for whiny, sniveling . . . well; not rugby players.

Kira Burt is a working towards a Masters Degree in History and a full-contact pick-up game.

What is the WNBA?

September 7, 2011

Part 3: I am a professional, but for my genitals!

Women are smaller than men.  I know; I always go for the throat right off the bat.  But stay with me now:  Dunks are exciting.  People who don’t like basketball might disagree, but an overwhelming majority of casual fans agree that, relative to, say, a well ordered pick and roll, a dunk is exciting.  For that reason, and possibly to draw more girls into sports participation, the WNBA should be folded.

There is no need to get bogged down in murky debates about ‘quality of play’ which will not help lead to fruitful conclusions.  The Spurs have been demonstrating the anesthetic quality of sound fundamentals for more than a decade now, so we don’t need to blame women for not dunking (Candice Parker excepted) or blame basketball fans for not ‘appreciating’ something something blahblahblah.  None of this is relevant.  What’s much more relevant is the lack of research to indicate what impact, if any, the league has had on participation.  Neither the WNBA or it’s big brother counterpart/financial backer is equipped to defend the WNBA on any grounds relating to social impact, or indeed anything at all other than hypothetical future profitability and current cash flow generation for stadium owners.  The former is fantasy, and as we saw when the Atlanta Thrashers moved, having an unviable team lease your arena isn’t necessarily any more profitable than monster trucks.

This moment sparked male conversation more than female participation.

The basic notion that women’s sport is enhanced by professional leagues is a claim which has been allowed as a sort of unspoken promise – the kind that never has to be delivered upon because it is never really made.  By supporting the WNBA, the NBA does not support women’s grassroots athletics.  It does not make girls healthier and better adjusted.  It does not balance societies’ inequities or create life opportunities.  Other sports have seen major increases in participation at different points in history, almost uniformly without any professional leagues being involved at all.  Women’s baseball, in gestation as it was in the AAGPBL, didn’t creep into the nation’s little leagues for more than a generation.  When my sister was an adolescent, she became able to choose between a softball league and a baseball league for girls.  I have literally never heard any argument that that choice came about because of the AAGPBL, nor (more importantly) that it could have happened sooner if helped by the presence of a women’s pro league.

The simple fact of the matter where youth rates of sports participation are concerned, is that sedentary childhood lifestyles have increased coincident with increases in television time and decreases in gym class time.  One may trump the other, or even be the only actual factor, but the information available is scant, is focused on fatness, and belies any claim to real serious-minded concern on the part of the sports industry or government.  The factors which influence the decision to participate in sports, both what they are and how they work, is a subject for research in the fields of sports psychology and sports sociology.  There may have been some research thus far, but it is apparently not enough to win the day, and actually get kids playing physical games outside in increasing amounts.

In the meanwhile, my suggestions can be found below, offered humbly, meaning without assurances that any would work.  Sure, if I was a 6’1 (6’3 in NBA press guide units) woman who could almost dunk and actually liked to play defense, I could make a career, and maybe get the league some thirsted-for ink, by throwing unconscionable elbows, dying my hair five colours, and pulling down some other woman’s shorts in the middle of a game.  It might sell tickets, but would it help women’s sport?  If we don’t want girls to play sports so that they look a certain way in a bikini, then we do not want the WNBA to succeed by the real and actual standard.  We want it to fail, and go away, and be replaced by something that actually engages women.

Suggestions for alternate ways to get encourage women’s sport:

  1. Increase P.E. hours.
  2. Increase extra-curricular sports availability (number of teams).
  3. Take the top half of the WNBA, and make it a touring, barnstorming series of weekend tournaments.   Coaching and actually meeting girls on Friday night and Saturday day, and then a few games Saturday evening and Sunday.
  4. Give Mom a role, and maybe some pointers, in a public campaign to get girls into games.
  5. Focus on different sports.  Baseball and rugby are two sports which became available to girls in my hometown within the last twenty years, having literally never before been offered.  That means the first generation of girls whose moms played these sports is just beginning life.
  6. Turn off the tv.