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“An English Game Against English Players”: Imperialism, the Native New Zealand Rugby Tour of 1888-89, and English Identity Formation
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English newspaper coverage of the Native New Zealand rugby tour of 1888-89 provides insight into the tensions, inherent ambivalence, and instability involved in English identity formation of the late nineteenth century. Namely, this coverage exposes the contradictions inherent to the civilizing mission of the late nineteenth century British Empire. As the English pursued their imperial mission they sought to imbue those countries and their indigenous populations with English characteristics. Sport was used as a tool in imbuing men in the colonies with self-discipline, the ability to work well with fellow players, and loyalty to both the team and, by extension, the Empire as a whole – qualities that were considered distinctly English. For nonwhite men in particular, sport was one of the most realistic ways to prove one’s ability to conform to English standards of behavior and “civilize,” thus allowing them to earn societal inclusion and socio-economic mobility in the Empire. However, the way imperialism functioned ensured this process could never be complete: if indigenous populations were able to achieve civilization, and the civilizing mission succeeded, English white racial superiority would be threatened, as would the very existence of the Empire. Thus, in order to ensure the maintenance of the Empire, the civilizing mission always had to be presented as a goal that could never be completed. The Native New Zealand Tour of 1888-89 serves as a lens through which these ideologies and processes can be observed.