Nudity and professional sports have far more in common than many people are aware of. For example, the word “gymnasium” actually comes from the ancient Greek word “gymnasion,” which literally translates to “school for naked exercise.”
As if that wasn’t enough, ancient Greek Olympics also had the players perform totally nude – both as a celebration of the male body and as a tribute to the gods – with the exception of the few who wore leather penis restraints called “kynodesmes,” which means “dog leash.” Some even went so far as to daub themselves with olive oil to enhance their appearance, much like modern-day bodybuilders (and vain beach-dwellers).
Since 2002, New Zealand rugby players have decided to go back to the roots of sport, holding totally nude matches. Though the spectacle initially began as a nod to New Zealand’s national nude day – which has since then evolved into World Nude Day – it quickly took on a life of its own, becoming a national tradition and garnering press from around the world. But no olive oil or penis restraints for them – modern nude rugby players simply cover themselves in body paint, in order to overcome the obvious difficulties in distinguishing between teams.
The matches are held in Dunedin, typically in June – which falls dead in the middle of New Zealand’s winter, averaging a positively balmy 7 degrees Celsius (44.6 degrees Farenheit). Some wear boots in order to protect their feet from the cold, but most choose to participate fully nude, in stark contrast to the hordes of bundled-up spectators.
Ralph Davies, organizer of the event and employee of Headfirst Travel, told 7 News that the tradition of nude rugby was well-fitted to the city of Dunedin, as it is a largely student-dominated location. “Dunedin students are well known for getting their kit off and running around, so that’s how the idea really came and it’s just blown out of all proportion since then.”
Nude rugby spectators stand in a loose ring around the playing field, so hilarity often ensues as the players near the edge in their desperate grapples with one another, requiring the fans to dodge out of the way or risk getting beaned with an errant testicle. All participants have a great sense of humour about the sport; matches are traditionally disrupted by a clothed “streaker,” who is quickly dealt with by a nude police officer. In keeping with the hilarity, one year the event chose to include a blind referee.
Despite what seems to be a focus on novelty rather than the workings of the sport itself, all players are expected to put on a clean and honest match, which comes as a relief considering the already inherent dangers of combining tackling and scrums with exposed genitalia.