People say it’s a class matter; for historical reasons there is something essentially middle class and respectable about rugby, about the players and about the fans. There’s an odd contradiction about the way the more violent game can produce the less violent supporters and vice versa.
It lies in the old distinction (for those bright people, economists, at least it is old) between complements and substitutes. Does watching a violent game (for rugby is indeed that) incite you to further violence, or does it satisfy that savage beast, replace the desire for violence by assuaging the appetite?
With sport it\’s not all that important a distinction (for it may inded be just that the middle classes don\’t want to get blood on their Barbours) but in other areas of life it is indeed an extremely important one. For example, think of the upcoming plans to ban "violent" pornography. Is such a complement? Does viewing it make people more likely to go and commit violent sexual crimes? That\’s the argument used in favour of the banning, certainly. But what if the opposite is true? That it is in fact a substitute? That viewing such material replaces the desire to physically act out the fantasies?
Then a ban might actually lead to an increase in the violent sexual crimes: that\’s, of course, the very thing we\’re trying to avoid. We don\’t actually care what people do in a darkened room in front of a flickering screen. But we do care very much when they take such dark thoughts to the streets and to others.
That distinction is highly important and unfortunately, on the pornography front, it looks like it is in fact a substitute, not a complement. Thus banning it will lead to more crime, not less.