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The Culture and Athletic Art of Rugby

            For most fans, the most important aspect of a rugby team is its win-loss record. However, for someone interested in how human society works, and in particular how organizations are structured, create an ongoing culture, manage conflict, support or discourage change, adapt to their environment, and distribute power among different stakeholders, a rugby team provides an ideal case study, a real-life laboratory for understanding how individuals relate to each other within the boundaries of an organization, balancing needed stability with necessary change. As an organization, it encompasses the key dynamics of larger Australian society in a way that can be relatively easily studied, given the small size and clear boundaries of a team compared to the nation as a whole. A football team seems simple given that it has a single formal goal "to win games." However, each team has within it the entire range of dynamics that help organizations pull together for a goal, along with the entire range of dynamics that pull organizations apart. Organizations tend to replicate the structure of society as a whole, and this can be seen in Australian rugby.
             This paper examines the Essendon Football Club AFL in much the same way that an anthropologist would look at it, both as a way of understanding the team itself and also as a way of understanding the larger world of Australian rugby, and the still larger worlds of Australian sports and culture. This perspective allows one to understand when the Essendon FC reflects and supports larger values and when it runs counter to them as well as the different values of different subgroups within the team. One of the primary appeals of any sports team is that its fans see both the team and its players as special, which means that one of the most important tasks (as an organization) for a club is to convince fans that even though all rugby teams are more similar to each other than they are different from each other, their team is unique.

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