Rugby union was one of a number of versions of football to emerge from the mob games of pre-industrial England. It was adapted in the 19th Century into a pastime taken up by Gentlemen. During this period amateurism was the dominant hegemony, however conflict within the Rugby Football Union (RFU) over the concept of professionalism led to a schism with the working class clubs in the north of England forming their own professional version of the sport in 1895.
Over the next one hundred years, the RFU utilised its power and authority to maintain amateurism as the central concept of rugby union. For much of this period amateurism was regarded as the superior approach to sports participation. It was, however, a definition of amateurism that was based on a 19th Century ideal.
Changes took place in society, which changed the way sport was played. Sport became more serious and society began to demand only success from their teams. Rugby union was also influenced by the different cultures of the dominant playing powers of the Southern Hemisphere.
As the 20`x' Century progressed, an emergent hegemony developed within sport, which emphasised qualities of performance that may be termed `professional'. In the last quarter of the 20th Century amateurism was a residual hegemony within sport and most major sports had become both commercially oriented and professional. In its desire to maintain and promote rugby, the RFU had become dependent on commercialism and had also permitted cups and leagues to become part of the sport.
Finally, rather than lose total control of the sport the IRB agreed to allow professionalism. The five years since 1995 have seen a continued struggle for the control of the sport in England and have led some to fear for its survival at lower levels.
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Reference : Phillpots, K. (2000). The professionalisation of rugby union. PhD thesis, Warwick: University of Warwick. Available from http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/4498/1/WRAP_THESIS_Phillpots_2000.pdf
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