Mark Reason is one of my favourite sporting columnists in New Zealand. He is unafraid to have unpopular opinions, he is articulate, knowledgeable and writes clearly. I’m afraid he might have dropped the ball in his most recent column.
When discussing why crowds for rugby in Europe are so tribal, he accurately reflects on the geographic boundaries and community loyalty to particular teams. Munster are a club that play in Munster. Clermont is the team from Clermont. Both towns are quite working class, and they identify with their team as representatives of the community. As such, their support is passionate, loyal and carries a real connection to the team.
But then when applying the same conditions to rugby in New Zealand, he goes off on a strange tangent about how sporting fandom brings out the child in all of us. I highly disagree. Sport may be a somewhat pointless pursuit as a fan, but as I have moved into adulthood I have found far more to like about it. An understanding of context, culture around sport and a deeper understanding of tactics and psychology have all made sporting fandom a richer experience.
We lack that sense of tribal affiliation to the Super Rugby teams that he mentions and bemoans precisely because of the lack of factors that he outlined in European rugby. It isn’t the Canterbury Crusaders any more, or even the Christchurch Crusaders. They are just the Crusaders, with the sole goal of continuing to exist in one competition that lacks context outside of its own existence. There are precious few threads that remain to connect a franchise team in a franchise league to the communities that they purport to represent. There is no community ownership of the New Zealand franchise teams.