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Action Replay: The Oval Money-Spinner

The story goes that in 1823 Rugby was invented when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. This is probably a myth, but the current Rugby World Cup 2015 is named after him. The playing rules of rugby developed after many acrimonious meetings with football (soccer), but unlike football, rugby failed to come to terms with professionalism which led ‘to an historic split between the amateur union and the professional league’ (Mihir Bose, i newspaper, 4 September).

Tony Collins novel The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby skilfully weaves a story together by including details of matches alongside the wider historical and social picture and comments on how the oval ball has managed to keep Ireland united as one rugby nation when nothing else has been so effective.

However, for a hundred years, rugby has not only tolerated racism but has also arguably encouraged it. New Zealand excluded Maori players when playing the South African team (pre Mandela) but when the Springboks won the World Cup for the first time, Nelson Mandela proudly wore his Springbok jersey.

The professional services specialist EY thinks that the current tournament in England will generate £2.2bn of economic activity for the UK and could boost GDP by nearly 1bn. A record 500,000 overseas fans are expected to visit England and Wales for the competition, which is expected to help deliver a near £1bn boost for the UK’S travel and tourism industry, based on the expected fans spending on accommodation and entertainment. The society of independent brewers believes its members could see their sales to pub companies grow by as much as 20 percent equating to 250,000 pints.

Firms such as DHL and Land Rover are among the sponsors supporting the event. However, some more cautious brand experts are worried that the tournament will not generate the economic activity that football’s World Cup does. A more optimistic view is sounded by World Rugby’s chairman, Bernard Lassett, who says ‘the Rugby World Cup 2015 is set to be a game changer for a sport that continues to experience record growth around the word.’

It seems that professional sport and finance are as inextricably linked as ever.

KEVIN