Nation, Nationalism, and Sport: Fijian Rugby in the Local–Global Nexus


The changing architecture of the professional rugby union has created a seeming contradiction in Fijian nationalism: the best Fijian rugby players are now representing other nations and yet remain national heroes regarded by many Fijians as the embodiment of masculine indigenous Fijian ideals. Fijian ideologies about rugby problematize Benedict Anderson’s celebrated but problematic understanding of the nation as based on a territorially bounded, imagined community in which perceived commonality and deep horizontal comradeship override a reality of inequality and difference. Instead, the semiotic connections among rugby, indigenous masculinity, and nationalism operate to the exclusion of other potential claimants to the Fijian nation, particularly members of a sizable minority of South Asian descent, in ways which are better understood using George Mosse’s conception of nations as defined through the marginalization and exclusion of internal countertypes. Furthermore, Fijian nationalism operates in relation to the institutional and corporate structures in world rugby, which serve to standardize particular forms of nationalism that differ in significant ways from the commonsensical understanding of nationalism as coterminous with citizenship. An ethnography of an amateur club in Fiji, a multi-sited ethnography of Fijian players based overseas, and the analysis of mass media highlight the multiple levels on which Fijian nationalism is produced and reproduced through rugby. Nationalism is not culturally or socially bounded by a nation, but rather linked, in this case through sport, to identity politics that are at once intensely local and masculine while at the same time global, corporate, and nationalized.