Few sports teams or sports events compare with the British and Irish Lions series for showcasing collectively the talents of elite-level male rugby union players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The 2005 tour to New Zealand, which was billed by the Lions management team and media consultants as the ‘Power of Four: One Objective’, was widely regarded as ‘disastrous’ and tension-ridden, not least because of the outcome – 3-0 to New Zealand –, the size and national make up of the playing squad, the inclusion of public relations consultant Alistair Campbell in the tour party and the unintended consequences arising from this, and notable tour events such as the ‘staged’ photo shoot between Clive Woodward and Gavin Henson and the infamous spear tackle on Lions captain, Brian O'Driscoll. The Lions series provides an interesting paradox in its juxtaposition of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon rivalries with international rivalries whilst, at the same time, it reflects unifying and divisive elements of national identity between, and for, the four Home Nations. Set in this context, we examine press coverage of the 2005 series which included four English tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, two from Wales, Ireland and Scotland, including all Sunday editions. Particular sensitizing concepts derived from figurational sociology were used to identify categories of meaning within the coverage such as Lions building, national tagging and untagging, invented traditions and defence of home players. The findings of this study centre around the use of praise and blame gossip in reinforcing national habitus and invented traditions such as the ‘Welsh Way’, the related amplifying and de-amplifying role of the press, and a correlative heightening of the English–Celtic nations' rivalry despite attempts by the press and other commentators to temper this whilst invoking a sense of Lions unity.
Bloyce, D., Liston, K., Platts, C., & Smith, A. (2010). Pride of the Lions: a sociological analysis of media coverage of the 2005 tour from the perspective of the Four Home Nations. Sport in Society, 13(3), 448-469. https://doi.org/10.1080/17430431003588069