I must admit I am an atheist when it comes to the topic of team sport. It’s not that I’m against physical activity it’s just I’m more of a gym-going yoga-loving marathon-running type of person. I’ve never understood the point of chasing a ball around predefined area as either a spectator or participant. Moreover I find the sporting culture of some codes,where players are frequently fronting up to the cameras pretending to apologize for their latest “indiscretion” (or whatever the euphemism du jour the media is using), quite sickening.
When I found myself dodging broken glass and vomit on my way to gym the morning after the opening night festivities I was utterly convinced that the Rugby World Cup would be rugby culture at it’s very worst and vowed to stay clear of the whole event. Well as far as way as one can when you live halfway between the main stadium and the central Auckland fan zones.
But of course the event found me.
My gym regularly hosted rugby squads doing weights work and I ended up exercising alongside the Fijian and English teams. But my favourite were the French team who decided one Thursday evening to come along to one of the gym’s dance classes for a bit of a boogie. Were the players completely uncoordinated like the rest of us? Absolutely. But the players were there getting the groove onto Lady Gaga and the class was buzzing from having Les Bleus join us for the workout. I was impressed that these professional sportspeople were willing to go out of their comfort zone and try something a bit different for exercise.
Perhaps that was a teachable moment for me, try something different.
My father had purchased some tickets a few months ago to the bronze final thinking that my sister’s baby would arrive in plenty of time for him to see it. The baby had other ideas and arrived in Invercargill on Tuesday morning leaving two tickets to the events free. I decided to snap the tickets and take along one of my friends who I knew was rather crazy about rugby (and was still smarting from not being at the final of the last Rugby World Cup held in New Zealand).
So off we went to the final. We trudged the fan trail stopping to get our face painted and partake in French pastries (because nothing says rugby match grub like a pain au chocolate) which was just as well because the seats were right at the top of the temporary stands.
The vibe from the crowd was one of jubilation. The Welsh supporters were stoked their team had made it this far and the Australians seemed in good spirits as well. My friend was absolutely ecstatic to be going to one of the matches and decided the bronze final was perhaps going to be better than the final. Not so much pressure and potential for ugliness that comes with high-stakes sporting events just a good fun night out.
And to my surprise I actually enjoyed the event.
Looking back perhaps I had been overly harsh of my judgement of rugby. While I still recoil at the setting out to thrash the opposition by any means necessary attitudes, thinking success on the field excuses bad behaviour off it and the drunkenness, boorishness and violence that often accompanies major games there are aspects of rugby which I admire. Like the try by the Welsh at the end of the game. The team knew it was impossible to win and that the full-time buzzer had gone yet they kept plugging away the Australian defensive line until they finally crossed over. This was team sports at its best, playing together, helping each other and not giving up in the face of adversary.
Truth be told I hadn’t gone to the final for the game or even the experience. I went because I knew that my rugby-mad friend wouldn’t get a chance to go to one of the world cup games and like those Les Bleus players at dance class it’s always good to try something new. As it happened my friend’s enthusiasm for the game made it thoroughly enjoyable night for me. Has it converted me into a rugby fanatic? Probably not. But I might even tune in tonight to watch the game. Don’t know if I could bring myself to brave the crowds at the fan zone down the street though.