Seminar: Rugby Union and Celebrity at the Centre of a Small Nation

01-05-2013 at 4pm to 6pm

Location: Zen Room, The ATRiuM, Cardiff

Audience: Public

Add to calendar

Grav, Gav and Alfie: Rugby Union and Celebrity at the Centre of a Small Nation
Dr John Harris (Glasgow Caledonian University)


This presentation will look at the cultural politics of sporting celebrity and the role of rugby union within contemporary Wales. Rugby is, of course, the national sport and many of its leading players become revered figures whose exploits on the field of play are celebrated. Here within the Welsh and British media the individual sporting body is both extended to represent a nation and compressed to obscure social divisions. This paper will consider the ways in which media narratives are framed to (re)present discourses of the nation and will also discuss some of the tensions inherent in local/global relationships within the rapidly changing rugby landscape. Beyond this, it looks specifically at players who have moved outside of the relatively narrow confines of the sports pages and entered into the wider ‘celebrity’ sphere. Whilst it is those who have appeared in the fabled number ten jersey who have achieved a certain prominence within a national context, I will focus here on three players who have appeared in the centre position. For different reasons, Gareth Thomas and Gavin Henson have achieved a level of fame and recognition which far exceeds that normally afforded to rugby players within the wider British media. I also look at the case of Ray Gravell whose untimely passing in 2007 led to a period of national mourning and became an important site for considerations of what Welsh identity means. Key themes addressed in this presentation include the battle between tradition and change, the problems when athletes become ‘celebrities’, and the different types of Welshness (re)presented, celebrated and imagined through the sporting body.


John Harris is Reader in International Sport & Event Management within the Department of Business Management at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland. Prior to this he was a tenured Associate Professor in Sport Administration at Kent State University, USA. Born and schooled in Wales, John has written a number of articles on sporting celebrity and continues to undertake research into various aspects of sport, tourism and event management in Wales. John is the author of Rugby Union and Globalization and co-editor of Sport and Social Identities (both Palgrave Macmillan).

Selected works on rugby and celebrity in Wales:

  • Harris, J. (2012) ‘A new Prince of Wales? Long live the King!’, in C. Sandvoss, M. Real and A. Bernstein (Eds) Bodies of Discourse: Sport Stars, Media, and the Global Public. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
  • Harris, J. (2008) ‘Tales from the outside half factory: From (sh)amateurism to professionalism in the autobiographies of Welsh rugby’s number tens’, in G. Ryan (Ed) The Changing Face of Rugby. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Harris, J. and Clayton, B. (2007) ‘The first metrosexual rugby star: Rugby union, masculinity and celebrity in contemporary Wales’, Sociology of Sport Journal, 24(2), 145-164.
  • Harris, J. (2006) ‘(Re)Presenting Wales: National identity and celebrity in the postmodern rugby world’, North American Journal of Welsh Studies, 6(2), 1-12.

This seminar is open to all. Email [email protected] for more information.