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Animal in sport

Rugby

There are two versions of this fast and aggressive ball game: rugby union and rugby league. They are so similar that somebody who is good at one of them can quickly learn to become good at the other. The real difference between them is a matter of social history. Rugby union is the older of the two. In the nineteenth century it was enthusiastically taken up by most of Britain's public schools. Rugby league split off from rugby union at the end of the century. Although it has now spread to many of the same places in the world where rugby union is played, its traditional home is among the working class of the north of England, where it was a way for miners and factory workers to make a little bit of extra money from their sporting talents. Unlike rugby union, it has always been a professional sport.

Because of these social origins, rugby league in Britain is seen as a working class sport, while rugby union is mainly for the middle classes. Except in south Wales. There, rugby union is a sport for all classes, and more popular than football. In Wales, the phrase 'international day' means only one thing - that the national rugby team are playing. Since 1970, some of the best Welsh players have been persuaded to 'change codes'. They are 'bought' by one of the big rugby league clubs, where they can make a lot of money. Whenever this happens it is seen as a national disaster among the Welsh.

Rugby union has had some success in recent years in selling itself to a wider audience. As a result, just as football has become less exclusively working class in character, rugby union has become less exclusively middle class. In 1995 it finally abandoned amateurism. In fact, the amateur status of top rugby union players had already become meaningless. They didn't get paid a salary or fee for playing, but they received large 'expenses' as well as various publicity contracts and paid speaking engagements.

 

Traditionally, the favourite sports of the British upper class are hunting, shooting and fishing. The most widespread form of hunting is foxhunting - indeed, that is what the world 'hunting' usually means in Britain. This is a popular pastime among some members of the higher social classes and a few people from lower social classes, who often seen their participation as a mark of newly won status.



Killing birds with guns is known as 'shooting' in Britain. It is a minority pastime confined largely to the higher social classes; there are more than three times as many licensed guns for this purpose in France as there are in Britain. The birds which people try to shoot (such a s grouse) may only be shot during certain specified times of the year. The upper classes often organize 'shooting parties' during the 'season'.

The only kind of hunting which is associated with the working class hare-coursing, in which greyhound dogs chase hares. However, because the vast majority of people in Britain are urban dwellers, this too is a minority activity.

The one kind of 'hunting' which is popular among all social classes is fishing. In fact, this is the most popular participatory sport of all in Britain. Between four and five million people go fishing regularly. When fishing is done competitively, it is called 'angling'.

Apart from being hunted, another way in which animals are used in sport is when they race. Horse-racing is a long-established and popular sport in Britain, both 'flat racing' and 'national hunt' racing (where there are jumps for the horses), sometimes known as 'steeple-chase'. The former because known as 'the sport of king' in the seventeenth century, and modern British royalty has close connections with sport involving horses. Some members of the royal family own racehorses and attend certain annual race meetings (Ascot, for example); some are also active participants in the sport of polo and show-jumping (both of which involve riding a horse).

The chief attraction of horse-racing for most people is the opportunity it provides for gambling. Greyhound racing, although declining, is still popular for the same reason. In this sport, the dogs chase a mechanical hare round a racetrack. It is easier to organize than horse-racing and 'the dogs' has the reputation of being the 'poor man's racing'.

 

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