Few sports teams or sports events compare with the British and Irish Lions series forshowcasing collectively the talents of elite-level male rugby union players fromEngland, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The 2005 tour to New Zealand, which was billedby the Lions management team and media consultants as the ‘Power of Four: OneObjective’, was widely regarded as ‘disastrous’ and tension-ridden, not least because ofthe outcome – 3-0 to New Zealand –, the size and national make up of the playingsquad, the inclusion of public relations consultant Alistair Campbell in the tour partyand the unintended consequences arising from this, and notable tour events such as the‘staged’ photo shoot between Clive Woodward and Gavin Henson and the infamousspear tackle on Lions captain, Brian O’Driscoll. The Lions series provides aninteresting paradox in its juxtaposition of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon rivalries withinternational rivalries whilst, at the same time, it reflects unifying and divisive elementsof national identity between, and for, the four Home Nations. Set in this context, weexamine press coverage of the 2005 series which included four English tabloid andbroadsheet newspapers, two from Wales, Ireland and Scotland, including all Sundayeditions. Particular sensitizing concepts derived from figurational sociology were usedto identify categories of meaning within the coverage such as Lions building, nationaltagging and untagging, invented traditions and defence of home players. The findingsof this study centre around the use of praise and blame gossip in reinforcing nationalhabitus and invented traditions such as the ‘Welsh Way’, the related amplifying andde-amplifying role of the press, and a correlative heightening of the English–Celticnations’ rivalry despite attempts by the press and other commentators to temper thiswhilst invoking a sense of Lions unity.
- figurational sociology
- national identity