DMU sports historians create international conference to mark the Rugby World Cup in France

As fans from around the world turn their eyes to France to watch the Rugby Union World Cup, De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has announced it will be hosting an international conference about the sport.

DMU’s prestigious International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) has organised the ‘From Leicester to the World Cup’ event to be held on Wednesday 22nd November 2023.


The conference will mark the 200th anniversary of the sport’s invention at Rugby School when, legend has it, pupil William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it during a school football match in 1823 and, therefore, created the “rugby” style of play.

The Rugby World Cup winner’s trophy is called the Webb Ellis Trophy to commemorate the founder, who was born on 24 November 1806.

Academics from England and the Catalan region of Spain will deliver lectures highlighting their research into a game whose tournament, which starts today, is the third most-watched international sporting event in the world, after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games.

The speakers include Emeritus Professors Tony Collins and Dilwyn Porter from DMU’s ICSHC, Dr Lydia Furse, formerly of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham, Maria Pasarello Clerice, from the Universitat Central de Catalunya, and Adrian Smith, from the University of Southampton.

Topics covered include the Webb-Ellis commemorations of 100 years ago, the expulsion of France from the Five Nations tournament in 1931, the French influence on rugby in South-West Europe and ‘big money’ in English championship rugby.


DMU Emeritus Professor Tony Collins' book on rugby

ICSHC Director Professor Martin Polley said: “Last year we hosted the British Society of Sports History (BSSH) annual conference and this event for 2023 continues our commitment to wider impact and public engagement events in the area sports history and culture.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our speakers, both from the UK and overseas, who will be part of the conference, and very pleased to be able to continue our strong links with the DMU Special Collections archive as part of the event programme.

“Since the ICSHC was first established in 1996, the history of men’s and women’s rugby has been an important area of research, both for members of our academic team and also PhD students too.”

CONFERENCE - world cup logo

The Webb Ellis Rugby World Cup and France '23 logo

Emeritus Professor Richard Holt has written extensively on the history of sport in France and is part of the conference organising team.

He said: “From the Racing Club and the Stade Francais in Paris to Bordeaux, Toulouse and Beziers, Bayonne and a host of other great teams from the South-West, the French love their rugby! France was the only country to play in the 'Home internationals' in the twentieth century when the 'Five Nations' became a fixture in our national sporting calendar.

“The holding of the Rugby World Cup in France this year provides an ideal opportunity to host an exploration and celebration of this special sporting relationship, and to reflect on the roots of the game in Britain.”    

Dr Lydia Furse, who is an Independent Researcher and also a DMU PhD graduate will be presenting a paper on the sport of Barrette in France, which was a version of Rugby Union developed specifically for women by Dr Marie Houdré during the 1920s.

“The game was a popular physical sport,” she said. “And my research argues that there was an explicitly feminist undertone to female participation in a version of rugby.

“Given that France are hosting the Rugby World Cup this autumn it is an exciting time to explore the history of women’s rugby in Paris during the 1920s”.

RUGBY - stade de France

The magnificent Stade De France will host the final on October 27

ICSHC's James Panter, who is also part of the conference organising team, said: “To be able to host this academic conference on the DMU campus and highlight the rugby traditions of Leicester during the World Cup year is excellent. We are sure the event will generate a lot of interest. Researching the Leicester Tigers archive now held by DMU Special Collections in preparation for the conference has been fascinating.”


England squad v France at Leicester 1909 from the Tigers archive

Find further details about the conference and book a FREE place at the conference in November.



Posted on Friday 8 September 2023

  Search news archive