Delving deeper into how New Zealand’s elite rugby athletes create a link between sport and social norms.

(To be assessed).


Earlier this month the New Zealand (and world) public learnt of the illegal activities of former All Black, world rugby’s highest ever point scorer and current highest paid New Zealand rugby athlete Dan Carter. Carter was caught in Paris drink-driving with a blood alcohol level 0.98g per litre above the French legal limit after a club dinner with his Paris based Racing 92 rugby team. With similar stories of New Zealand rugby stars caught in illegal/frowned upon acts in the past I have always brushed it to the side (as I believe many New Zealanders do) as we hold ‘our All Blacks’ in the highest regards within New Zealand society and prefer to think of them as hero’s/role models rather than people we look down on.

After some careful thought and a new perspective on sociological aspects within sport I have decided to delve deeper into why we place these athletes on such a high pedestal within society, so much so that society and the athletes involved believe that they are above the ‘laws of the land’ (such as drink-driving). Looking at this incident from a critical theorists lens we can see how someone who represents/has represented New Zealand sport at such a high standard for so long can be an influence to society through this act, Carter’s drink driving combined with New Zealand’s heavy drinking culture (often associated with club rugby) may lead people to believe that this behaviour is acceptable if he is not given the proper punishment. This is due to the fact that a critical theorist does not just see sport as a reflection of society but also recognises that the sport and how athletes conduct themselves influences society. However, if I look at this from a functionalist’s lens we would try to brush this incident to the side as Carter has long been seen as someone who improves social development and behaviour within sport for society. Also, Carters actions are something to overlook, as a functionalist does not recognise the possibility that sometimes sports (and behaviours associated with sports, such as drinking alcohol) reproduce negative social outcomes.

Carters act of formal deviance could also be seen as an act of socialization, an opportunity to learn how he fits within his new team in a new country (also a country with a heavy drinking culture). A wide range of factors may have influenced carter’s decision to ‘get behind the wheel’ after the Racing 92 dinner including showing off his masculinity to new teammates in how much he can drink, team-mates may have also done the same thing, the culture of drinking in relation to rugby and also how the media may perceive what he is doing, ultimately he decided to go ahead and drive whilst intoxicated. In what I believe to be an example of socialization, Carter posted on his social media a public apology for being caught drink driving and the mistakes he has made in this “error of judgement”, this is socialization in my opinion as he is trying to regain his foothold as a role model within sport and is showing his knowledge of how we fit/behave within society.


Dan Carter social media apology.


However, my real question is if he had not been caught would he have posted a similar apology, coming clean for his mistakes and would he do this again, the answer I believe is it is highly unlikely he would have owned up to his wrongdoings despite being 0.98g per litre above the French legal blood alcohol limit.

Along with Carter other rugby stars have been involved in acts of formal deviance going against the social norms recently, including another former All Black Ali Williams (cocaine possession), former Wallabies international James O’Conner (cocaine possession) and Julian Savea (current All Black – assault charge).

Upon looking deeper into these acts of formal deviance within rugby (with my new sociological view) I am curious to know how these acts straying away from social norms are starting to creep more and more into the identities of rugby players. As a national, treasured sport within New Zealand I am interested in finding out more about how the New Zealand public/society views these deviant acts if they continue to arise in the future. How long or what will it take before the New Zealand sports society will not continue to ‘sweep these issues under the carpet’?


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