Can’t say I am an expert on rugby league, but I do know it had some good early links with the progressive side of politics. Have read a little bit, and spoken to friends who have an understanding of the game, which has made me intrigued in finding out more.
Correct me if I’m wrong but rugby league’s origins in the UK coincide with big strikes in the northern counties, particularly around the mines and due to the repression unleashed on the strikers, there was a correlation made between the wealthy, and their sporting activities, with rugby union being perceived as the gentleman’s (exploiter’s) game, with the workers requiring their own game, and that’s how rugby league was born: maybe.
In NSW and Queensland, rugby league commenced around 1907-08. Many of the foundation clubs had strong links with local branches of the ALP, and the Labour movement per se. In the words of Newtown’s WJ Ellis, a man also active in a range of mutual benefits funds, it was considered a means of facilitating working class improvement and self sufficiency.
One intriguing episode back in 1917, around the time of the General Strike in NSW. The Glebe club’s best players went on strike, whilst its selection commitee resigned. This was in response from alleged injustices from the league’s headquarters. The reaction from officialdom was swift; one player suspended for life, 14 others suspended until the end of the 1918 season. After an appeal, these players returned to play the 1918 season.
One of the leaders of the ‘rebels’ was Frank Burge, an active anti-conscriptionist, and staunch member of the Municipal Employees Union. Burge at different times was active for Glebe, both as a player, and on the selection commitee.
Some well know lefties have played rugby league such as Jack Munday was recruited by Parramatta in 1950, earlier Tom Uren appeared for North Sydney. How does that sit with Aussie Rules, and progressive politics? I did an Almanac article a while ago about Frank Hyett , but in terms of links between progressive political causes and sporting bodies there’s more I’d like to know re Aussie rules in this context.
In the corporatised NRL I doubt if there is much that is politically progressive. In Melbourne our exposure to the NRL is either re players misbehaving, or publicising the NRL’s Murdoch team, the Melbourne Storm. The last really progressive link I can recall from the NRL was Wally Lewis supporting MUA members during the 1998 lockout.
As I said at the start I don’t have a great knowledge of the game, thus if any almanackers can give me some info on this topic I would be appreciative. The little I have read, like the article of Andrew Moores, the quaintly named ‘Opera of the Proletariat’, starts me thinking.