Friday, 6 September 2013

What the Ranfurly Shield tells us

The two weeks in which Otago won and then lost the Ranfurly Shield are a reminder of where value lies in this age of professionalism. Sport, to become more than paying money to watch other people play for money, needs a drama associated with it that takes what is watched and turns it into something that is experienced. This is the success of the ITM cup- its regionalist, tribal drama and contest. This is not the invented identities of Super 15 wherein corporations claim to represent many regions that traditionally oppose and combat each other. This is sport at its most tribally theatrical. As  the french intellectual Roland Barthes wrote in 'what is sport', sport operates as a theatre in which the spectator is caught up as a participant. The shield matches succeed because the shield itself is a scarce commodity- it is set aside as sacred. People want to see it, to touch it, to be in its presence. Not for what is is- wood with metal, but for the mythos, the story, the claim it  represents. In short, for what it symbolizes- for both those who win it- and for those who lose it.
 The shield is where the local identity, the local value, the team as that which the spectator participates in is best realised.  This is why we have shield processions, it is the city, the province celebrating itself as having achieved something of worth.
If super rugby is the the mercenary game, then ITM cup, by holding onto the shield, by locating itself as properly provincial,  is now the lace where what can be called 'the real' of rugby is still located.