Category Archives: Rugby World Cup 2015

Are we any good at sport?

By Ben Oakley

Team sports dominate the general public’s perception of sporting success. The UK proudly looks forward to supporting all four of its national teams in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. But, if some, or all, fail to qualify for the final stages of world or European Championships – as happened with the football teams in 2008 – there is collective gloom at our demise. After all, many team sports were developed in Britain – so shouldn’t we be good at them?

We tend to judge ourselves by success in team sports which are closely linked to national identity: football, cricket and rugby. Although national teams can do well in cricket and rugby, these are essentially not seen as ‘world’ sports since they reflect colonial dissemination – we should do well, given the small number of nations who play these sports professionally (less than 15). Consider the data on registered rugby players in England (340,000), Wales (73,000), Scotland (49,000) and Ireland (97,000) compared to top ranked New Zealand (148,000). Click to see this infographicExternal link 10 from World RugbyExternal link 11 for more information and statistics.

In global football, on the other hand, England’s recent achievements are lamentable and reaching the last four (last achieved in 1990) of the World Cup seem a distant past. The rhetoric in the build up to such events is astonishingly optimistic but the hope often belies reality. But in terms of the Premier League football commercial ‘product’, we are world beaters with it surpassing the American football equivalent (NFL) in 2012 for global broadcast and sponsorship revenues.

Two England Rugby players

Creative commons image Credit: By David Barkhausen [CC BY-SA 2.0External link 12], via Flickr Creative CommonsExternal link 13

But what of other sports? Britain has a more diverse range of sports than many other countries, and with some esoteric examples such as Octopush or ‘underwater hockey’; we should celebrate this plurality.

From 2000-08 the UK’s Sporting Preferences survey asked some 2,000 British people in which sports they would ‘most like to see British teams achieve success’. Athletics and football easily topped the polls, depending when the survey was undertaken. Swimming came next followed by tennis, gymnastics, boxing, rugby, cricket and other sports.

The public then, does also particularly connect with Olympic sports, and we are very good at them as the 2012 Olympics showed. The trouble is such sports have got harder and harder to win as more nations have been formed in the post-1989 democratisation era. In addition, many nations such as China have entered the ‘sporting arms race’ to gain recognition. This means, rightly or wrongly, more and more is being spent on nurturing sporting champions, including sophisticated methods for nurturing those who show promise. Sadly though, British celebrations of the Olympic Games have recently got a lot harder with the loss of BBC’s control of broadcast rights for the Games from 2022, being sold to Discovery, owner of satellite channel Eurosport.

In the increasingly competitive Olympic environment, Great Britain is excelling, with Olympic squads in sports such as rowing, cycling and sailing dominating the world stage and our Olympic athletes’ behaviour contrasting strongly with that of some footballers. The British team arrive at the 2010 Winter Olympics, led by Shelly Rudman

Creative commons image Credit: S. YumeExternal link 14 under CC-BYExternal link 15 licence

However, winning margins at this level are tiny with, for example, five of Great Britain’s gold medals in 2004 won by a total margin of 0.545 sec. A wobble here, an incorrect body position there or a failure to use a new training aid can mean second place rather than first. The role of sport science and psychology in understanding these small performance margins is immense, and people’s interest in this subject, as well as blossoming employment opportunities following the 2012 Olympic legacy has underpinned the success of The Open University’s degree in Sport, Fitness and Coaching16.

Great Britain has enhanced its Olympic rankings with the use of National Lottery money with the National Lottery Act being specially amended in 1997 to make this possible. There have been dramatic improvements in results in the 20 years since the nadir of 1996 when only one gold medal was won (15 medals in all): the improvements have been by a factor of four with 60 medals (20 gold) anticipated in Rio 2016. There is also evidence to suggest that national sporting success does matter to those in power. Indeed in 2002, government economists searched to find economic links between sporting success and productivity and GDP. They concluded that the ‘feel good factor’ alone was worth the use of public money to help achieve success.

So, we might be better at sport than we think. In fact we ought to celebrate all success, regardless of how well we do in the team sports which so often dominate

This article originally appeared on the OpenLearn website. Click here to read the original article. OpenLearn also has a Rugby World Cup Hub containing many more interesting articles.

Home or Away – can kit colour make a difference at the Rugby World Cup?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

With England’s opener tonight against Fiji marking the start of the 2015 tournament, and the rugby gaze of the world firmly focused on the UK somewhat surprisingly England will not walk out in their white home kit. World Cup regulations state every stadium must be treated as a neutral venue and as such a coin toss decides who is given the ‘home’ honour and who the away. Somewhat ironically England find themselves in a pool with Fiji who are the one other side in the tournament whose jersey is also white. While the England team don’t appear too concerned about this, there are a number of psychological factors that can potentially come into play where kit colour is involved. Could this switch to the red – traditionally associated with the Welsh, actually be an advantage to England?

Colour has long been thought to influence human mood, emotion, and aggression as well as being recognised as an element of signalling in competitive interactions in many non-human species (Hill and Barton, 2005).  Colours have been found to contain certain unique psychological properties and can have a strong impact on our emotional feelings. (Hemphill, 1996; Wright n.d).  For example, Red is viewed as a powerful and physical colour, masculine in nature that can stimulate and raise pulse while also carrying with it negative links to defiance and aggression.  Blue on the other hand is viewed as the colour of the mind and with that comes connotations of efficiency, logic, coolness and comfort. Valdez and Mehrabian (1994) also found that individuals were likely to attribute emotional characteristics to colour even at a young age (Zentner, 2001).  These early findings lead us to consider the impact that colour may have in sporting contests.

Research by Hill and Barton (2005) investigated the link between uniform colour and match outcome in a number of different combat sports (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling) at the 2004 Olympics, where competitors were randomly assigned either a blue or red uniform. Interestingly their findings revealed that that for all sports there was a consistent and statistically significant pattern that showed a greater frequency of winners wearing red than blue.  Conclusions can subsequently be drawn, based on earlier colour research, that this success is related to the psychological responses that individuals have to colour, in particular the perception that red is associated with dominance in the eyes of the opponent. Hill and Barton (2005) further suggested that this enhanced win rate could be reflective on an innate response to perceive red as a signal of dominance, however they did further surmise that colour would only really determine outcome in relatively even contests.

While there seems to be evidence that colour does impact performance within individual sports, Attrill, Gresty, Hill and Barton (2008) were keen to investigate whether colour also has an impact on performance in team sports. They examined the colour red and its associations with long term team success in English football.  Their investigation revealed that English football teams wearing a red strip had been champions more often than would be expected on the basis of the proportion of clubs that played in red.   This finding was also supported by Greenlees, Leyland, Thelwell and Filby (2008) who focused their investigation on Football penalty takers’ uniform colour.  Their study revealed that penalty takers wearing red were perceived by the Goalkeepers in two key ways: 1. that they would possesses more positive characteristics than those wearing white and 2.  And that their chance of successfully saving penalty kicks from them was lower than those wearing white.

While research in sport has predominantly focused on the colour red, some earlier research by Frank and Gilovich (1988) examined black uniforms and links to aggression.  Black is a colour frequently associated with death in many cultures, and can psychologically be associated with something menacing (Kaya & Epps, 2004).    Findings revealed that when teams (NFL and ice hockey)  were wearing black there was a significant increase in the number of penalties awarded against them, which was attributed to both social perception (biased judgements of referees) and self-perception (increased aggressiveness of players themselves even though they are wearing and not seeing the colour).  What is clear is that whether down to person perception, self-perception or the psychological properties they hold colour does influence the success of team and individual athletes in even contests.  It is clear that this area warrants further research but that it could have implications for regulations that govern sporting attire.

Much of the research that has been conducted into team sports has focused on football, it will be interesting to reflect after this Rugby World Cup whether similar trends are apparent.  In the meantime if you want to keep a check on the success of the teams here is a summary of the home and away kits of the 7 teams with the shortest odds!


Country Home Away Odds
New Zealand Black White 5/4
England White Red 9/2
South Africa Green/gold White 6/11
Australia Gold White 8/1
Ireland Green Black/green 9/1
France Light Blue Burgundy 12/1
Wales Red Blue 25/1

Taken From –


This article is an adapted version of an article that originally appeared on the OpenLearn website. Click here to read the original article. OpenLearn also has a Rugby World Cup Hub containing many more interesting articles.


Guinness and Gareth Thomas rugby tackle homophobia

By Helen Owton

With the Men’s Rugby World Cup about to start, the sport of rugby appears to be making strides to tackle homophobia in sport. The most recent TV advert from Guinness stars Gareth Thomas telling his story about coming out in rugby.

The Out on the Field (2015) survey found that 60% of gay men and 50% of lesbians have been subjected to homophobia in sport which means that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in sport must regulate conversations, behaviour and identities on a daily basis because of the implications of ‘coming out’. The assumption in rugby that as well as being aggressive and competitive, all ‘real men’ must be heterosexual means that ‘gay’ becomes a derogatory identity label and an abnormal lifestyle. The Guinness advert challenges this stance and perhaps shows that attitudes are starting to shift.

Researchers who have studied issues of gays in sports largely agree that organised sports are highly homophobic (Anderson, 2002) although there is some more recent debate about whether men’s heterosexual ‘gay’ behaviours (e.g. kissing each other on the mouth) indicates more openness and acceptance (Anderson, 2005). This TV advert is a step towards even more openness and acceptance.

Gareth talks about how he hid his sexual identity and his feelings, however when an individual feels unaccepted and alienated from society problems can occur. Whilst in this advert he refers to his sexuality as being ‘so minor’, in his autobiography, Gareth discloses how he felt during an all-time low:

“The more I thought, the more self-loathing I generated, the more attractive suicide seemed […] The sea was grey and merged with the horizon. Standing there, on the edge of the cliff, it all seemed so easy. A single step and I’d walk off, into the sky. No more pain. No more loneliness. No more lies. No more causing chaos for people that I loved” (Thomas, 2014, p.155-156)

Evidently, it’s not easy for sportspeople to ‘come out’ because of the homophobia they feel they might experience from fans and from their team mates that they share changing rooms with. Homophobia is deeply embedded in the hidden codes of narrow forms of heterosexual masculinity which rests on the belief that to be a ‘real man’ you’re not gay.

Like Gareth Thomas, gay men come out because many report feelings of ‘living a lie’ and feel isolated and alienated from society when they are hiding a part of themselves. He was fortunate enough to receive a positive and assuring response from his friends, family, rugby coaches and teammates which will hopefully mean that more sportspeople will feel more comfortable about coming out to their teammates.

For Gareth Thomas to ‘come out’ not only challenges heteronormative assumptions about sexuality in sport and promotes diverse sexualities, it enables athletes to feel open and proud of themselves for who they are. It helped to affirm his sense of self that his sexuality was respected and accepted by others as well.

However, you don’t have to be gay to challenge these assumptions; James Haskell and Ben Foden have both posed for Attitude (gay magazine) and Ben Cohen works to eliminate homophobia through his StandUp Foundation.

The sub culture of rugby seems to be raising awareness of gay issues and seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby. Furthermore, Guinness appear to be using their brand to tell stories of adversity and ‘double lives’ in rugby, for example, Ashwin Willemse’s story of becoming a Springbok:

This topic will be covered in a new OU Sport and Fitness module coming soon.