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Sporting life

Banned by the Tsar and pardoned by Khrushchev, Russian rugby has a long history

By Huw Richards   October 2011

Rugby union inverts conventional geopolitics: the US and Japan are lovable underdogs and the superpower is New Zealand, where the World Cup is under way. The tournament’s cast is familiar and of the 20 teams participating, 19 played in the last World Cup. The newcomer is another geopolitical giant turned sporting minnow—Russia, which qualified for the first time.

Yet rugby has a long history in Russia. It was introduced in around 1886 by a Scotsman named Hopper and played in Moscow with such vigour that the Tsarist authorities banned it for being “brutal and likely to initiate demonstrations and riots.”

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