Analysing participation and human rights enhancement. the 2019 Rugby World Cup value in political capital development, civic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceedingpeer-review



The project aim is to critically examine both the potential and actual use of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan for developing political capital, civic activism and human rights.

Theoretical Background and Literature

The 2019 Japan rugby world cup marks the first time that this event has been staged in Asia, showing the continued ambition of World Rugby to grow the game around the world. Although Japan may not be seen as a traditional rugby nation, it does in fact have a long historical association with the game, with references to rugby being played as far back as the 1870s, then later being introduced into elite educational establishments in the 1890s (Besnier 2012, p.497).

Longevity should not, however, be associated with breadth and depth to the participation, or necessarily a sport that is always viewed positively. Traditionally,  rugby in Japan has been played at elite universities, or owned by large corporations, such as in Kamaishi, an old steel producing town, where the Steel Corporation gave their name to a very successful local rugby team – Nippon Steel Kamaishi. This has meant that rugby has often being associated with conservatism, elitism and traditional images of male masculinity, which can be used to exclude, rather than include (Besnier 2012, p.497).  Schieder et al (2014) also gives an interesting insight into some of the challenges and narrowness of Japanese rugby culture, exploring issues of how Pacific islanders (particularly from Tonga) have been brought into the game, where some questions can be raised about exploitative motilities and how it raises some issues of racism in Japanese culture.

Research Design and Methods

This work is part of a broader EU funded research mobility project called EventRights, which seeks to explore and share knowledge on the extent that major sport events (MSEs) ensure a progressive rights focused agenda is pursued by awarding bodies, governments and other key institutions. This work has involved reviewing literature, analysing secondary data bases (the two parts presented in this paper) and will involve collecting primary data during the actual event in October 2019 (not presented or discussed in this paper, but which  will utilise aspects of Pappalepore and Duigan’s (2016) data collection method using digital portals).

The secondary data and literature was analysed using the Human Rights Model of Adams and Piekarz (2015), paying particular attention to any issues of displacement, freedom restrictions, protests, enhancement of environments, or opportunities for civic involvement and volunteering.  This will be complemented by the work of Griffin (2008).  Examples of the open secondary databases used range from: Polity IV, Freedom House, Corruption Index, COHRE, and a variety of national and local new sites and community blogs/vlogs.



In comparison with the Olympics or Football World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, at this stage of the findings, the staging of the Rugby World Cup seems to exhibit more positives than negatives on the balance ledger of human rights impacts. In terms of the physical impacts of the development of the infrastructure, such as stadium construction, preliminary results show  there have been fewer negative impacts, such as issues of forced displacements, as it has primarily used existing stadiums which have been up-graded. Indeed, in the instance of a new memorial stadium built in Kamaishi on the former school site destroyed by the 2011 Tsunami (the school has been rebuilt and relocated on higher ground), it has used the both the bidding process to win the rights to host some of the games, and the event planning process itself, as mechanisms to reengage communities with civic activism, in a town where the natural disaster compounded the economic problems created by the closure of the steel industry. This new stadium and event in Kamaishi, whilst not without its critics, has seen key stakeholder groups tap into the rugby heritage of the town, to try and restore civic pride, attract business and slow down the depopulation of the town, which, like a number of Japanese towns, it is facing the demographic challenges of having a larger, ageing dependant population, as younger people move away because of the lack of local job prospects.


The preliminary analysis shows that the Japanese Rugby World Cup is creating some interesting opportunities in terms of strengthening its civic activism and the non-profit sector. This latter finding is particularly interesting, as traditionally, this sector has been viewed as relatively weak in Japan (Henon, 2016), but as both the private and public sector have failed to deal with various economic problems and natural disasters, the non-profit sector has increasingly stepped in, to fill the void. In relation to the Rugby World Cup, preliminary evidence shows that the event has created a variety of points of leverage for civic movements, who can develop political capital, gain influence and create change.

Adams, A. & Piekarz, M. (2015), Sport events and human rights: positive promotion or negative erosion? Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 1-17,

Pappalepore, I., & Duignan, M. B. (2016). The London 2012 cultural programme: A consideration of Olympic impacts and legacies for small creative organisations in east London. Tourism Management, 54, 344-355.

Besnier N (2012) The athlete’s body and the global condition: Tongan rugby players in Japan Journal of American Ethnologist, Vol 39, No 3, pp491510. Available at:

Dominik Schieder & Geir-Henning Presterudstuen (2014) Sport Migration and Sociocultural Transformation: The Case of Fijian Rugby Union Players in Japan, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 31:11, 1359-1373, DOI: 10.1080/09523367.2014.921907 To link to this article: #

Griffin, J (2008) On Human Rights, Oxford: OUP.

Hernon, M (2016) Charity in Japan begins at Home, Japanese Times, 17 December, available at:

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEASM, Seville
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sep 2019
Event27th European Sport Management Conference - Seville, Spain
Duration: 3 Sep 20196 Sep 2019


Conference27th European Sport Management Conference
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Analysing participation and human rights enhancement. the 2019 Rugby World Cup value in political capital development, civic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this