In 1995 – the year after Creative Nation and in the same year as the first subscription television broadcast in Australia – the last of the major amateur sports in Australia went fully professional. Rugby union, the so-called ‘gentleman’s game played by hooligans’ (and one of the favourite sports of Pierre Bourdieu, who was a useful player in his youth and frequently cited it in his discussions of cultural capital and class), is associated in Australia and in several other countries (including, not coincidentally, England) with the gentlemanly amateur ethos championed in elite private schools. But this was also a period in which so-called ‘shamateurism’ was rife, with coaches and players receiving substantial hidden payments, subsidies, private sponsorship and ‘side’ employment. One of the key reasons for this practice was to prevent the ‘poaching’ of players by rugby league, which had broken away from rugby union and become professional in Australia in 1908.
However, by 1995, this was far more than an intra-national battle between rival football codes. Unlike rugby league, rugby union had a substantial, if highly variable, international reach across Europe, Australasia, Africa, the Americas and even Asia. It was, therefore, ripe for international commercial development and became the subject of an intense battle between Australia’s two most important media proprietors of that time: Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer. The former prevailed in securing the broadcast rights to the new domestic and international professional entity SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia Rugby), and Packer’s World Rugby Corporation (which echoed his famous 1970s World Series Cricket) was still born. Here it can be seen that the evolving Australian rugby union market was already integrated into international sports commerce and, it should be noted, into a transnational labour market via its ‘Super Rugby’ franchise system that hired players freely from across the rugby playing world. Its commercial partners also range from the naming rights partner of the national team (the Wallabies), the nation-identified airline Qantas, to other major and official partners, including @asics (Japan), Samsung (Korea) and HSBC (Hong Kong). But there are also government partners, both federal and state, who provide significant funding and other forms of support as part of rugby union’s ‘nationing’ remit, especially via the Wallabies, and which was most evident in Australia’s hosting of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. This chapter, then, focuses on the last two decades of post-Creative Nation rugby union in Australia as an exemplar of the compression of processes of long duration evident across the entire Australian sport field.