Economists fundamentally believe and can show that history and geography can really affect outcomes in many aspects of life (recall that economic / econometric analysis techniques have been shown to work satisfactorily when applied to sports).
As a starting point with Rugby Union, its no secret that Rugby Union’s development as a sport is closely associated with the diffusion of the British empire in the 19th century.
Next, have a look at this map of world climate zones from the UK Met Offices and see where the world’s temperate climates are. Then if you’re really interested, have a look at this rotating economic globe from the Nordhaus economic geography project at Yale. It plots where economic activity is strongest around the world.
What do we see ? The main action takes place in the temperate zones between the tropics and the polar caps. Then, have a think about where the British Empire spread, and where Rugby Union is strongest (see World Rugby’s international rankings list ).
What do you see ? Well it seems that Rugby Union is strongest in countries that had at least one of the following characteristics:-
i. part of Britain, a former colony / a member of the British Commonwealth (currently 53 countries, see members list )
ii. coastal: i.e. must have had contact with the British navy at some point (can you think of a land-locked country that is strong in rugby union ?)
iii. has a temperate climate (UK and Ireland certainly, New Zealand, Argentina, then parts of South Africa, and Australia – then note that this includes all of the countries who have won the Rugby World Cup).
To make this more scientific we tested for linkage between tropical land mass and rugby union success. We also tested for the relationship between being land-locked and success in rugby. We found the relationships are negative. Countries that are either land-locked or have some land mass in the tropics are less likely to do well at rugby. That isn’t just our opinion, its supported by econometric analysis of relevant geographic and rugby data.
Observation 1: history and geography are an important part of the Rugby World Cup winning story.