The reinvention of the British Lions: amateurs, professionals and contested identities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When rugby union became an openly professional sport in the mid-1990s it appeared that one of the institutions most under threat was the British Lions. Now more usually referred to as the British and Irish Lions, this touring team comes together every four years to take on one of the three leading southern hemisphere rugby nations in a three-match Test series. The first tour of the openly professional era in 1997 was celebrated for the ways in which important professional concepts were introduced, yet the touring party retained valued elements of the amateur ethos. The next two tours were not as successful, and led to questions about the very role of the Lions in the professional game. The 2009 tour saw a return to some of the values shaped during the age of amateurism and four years later the Lions achieved their first Test series win since 1997. Drawing upon the written (auto)biographies of those involved in elite-level rugby, this offers us an interesting case to unpack aspects of the fuzzy frontiers between amateurism and professionalism and some of the wider issues relating to sporting identities with specific reference to the topic of working-class amateurs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-220
Number of pages17
JournalSport in History
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • British Lions
  • rugby union
  • professionalism


Dive into the research topics of 'The reinvention of the British Lions: amateurs, professionals and contested identities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this