The draw for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup was announced with little warning at an event held in Salford over night.
It was announced that 14 teams will take part in the next World Cup, which will be held in Great Britain, and the format for the group stages would be completely overhauled.
I have grave concerns about the 2013 World Cup. The last time the World Cup was held in Great Britain it was a disaster on any level you want to look at.
It was uncompetitive, the attendances were abysmal, it was destroyed by the media for being a farce of a competition and on top of all that, it was such a financial disaster that for the next 5 years every single international tournament played was held in England as an effort to trying and keep the entire game in England from going bankrupt.
So with all that great news in mind, lets look at what we learned last night and what we can look forward to.
The Competition Format
There will be 14 teams split into four groups
For Groups A and B, of the 8 combined teams in those groups, 6 will go through to the quarter finals.
For Groups C and D, only 1 team from each group will go through to the quarter finals.
The groups are:
Papua New Guinea
In Groups C and D, teams play the other nations in their group and also one team from the opposite group as follows: Scotland v Atlantic qualifier, Tonga v Cook Islands, Wales v European qualifier.
How Competitive Will It Be?
I think its fair to say that the group stages of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup will be of no consequence at all.
Of the 14 teams that will take part, 8 will go through to the quarter finals. When you consider that in 2008 we only had 10 years take part in the World Cup, and that in 2013 the numbers will be “boosted” by teams such as Wales, the Cook Islands and probably the United States, we will not even be shedding the poor teams from the competition as we get to the quarter finals.
In fact, teams will be able to have a losing record in Groups A and B and still make the quarter finals stage. That is just a farce!
How The Groups Stack Up
Once again Englands obsession with Australia and its complete lack of respect for its true place in the game, and that of the World Champion New Zealand team, shines through in the way the groups have been set out.
Neither New Zealand or Australia can expect an opponent in the group stages that will get within 30 points of them. Considering that both sides would basically have to go win-less in the group stages to miss out on moving forward in the competition, you have to ask what the group stages are even about.
England get their match up with Australia, which should at least draw one crowd over 10,000, and they also throw in a match against Ireland, a team who will likely be made up of mostly semi professional players and Irish qualified players England hasn’t taken from them for their own use.
Fiji will be dragged out of hibernation once again, as a semi finalists in 2008, they will probably surprise with their competitiveness once again before we rest them completely until the next World Cup.
France and PNG, the two teams that the fictitious RLIF has tried to draw into the top tier with New Zealand and Australia via the Four Nations, once again get a place among the supposed big guns.
Samoa and Tonga are in different groups, which is great is you tire of the fantastic football and passion they turn on when they play each other. I can’t work out why Samoa is included in the main stages and Tonga isn’t. I would suggest the fact that most English administrators recognize names in the Samoan side, and not many in the Tongan side, so therefore, obviously Tonga isn’t a good side…
Basically Groups C and D might as well be known as the junk groups. They all played in their owns groups, then a game against a team from the other group, but who really cares because between the six teams they will only be offered 2 places in the quarter finals.
Why Would I Watch This Tournament?
We are trying to draw news fans to the game, and get existing fans to embrace the international game.
I’m a believer, I’m there! I’ve been pushing the barrow of international Rugby League my entire life. They are not selling this tournament to a hardcore fan like me, the only way this is a success is if they get the causal Rugby League fan, let alone the casual sports fan.
To get their attention, you need to put on a tournament that is entertaining. You need to give a person a reason to take two hours out of their day to watch your game of football.
I don’t see how this format does that.
If the games played in the group stages don’t hold any gravity, if the only two professional quality teams in the world (NZ and Aus) are playing against opposition they will wipe off the park until they meet in the final, and if the vast majority of these teams are playing opponents with whom they have no rivalries and no connections with…..why am I watching this over some other form of entertainment?
Choice Of Venues
One of the great moves in 2008 was playing games at venues with an appropriate capacity for the crowd that was expected to attend games.
In 2013, with the World Cup being held in Great Britain, crowds will be down anyway for the simple fact that the support for international Rugby League there is small.
You would have hoped that World Cup organizers would recognize this and play games at appropriately sized venues, but that is apparently not the case.
“With rugby league enjoying a new-found growth in Wales in recent years and, with the sport having been played in schools throughout the country for the past eight years, we are confident that hosting games in venues such as the Millennium Stadium will be a great way of helping boost the sport in Wales.” said First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones.
Now, thats all well and good, but Millennium Stadium has a capacity of 75,000. The Welsh Rugby League team right now would be lucky to get a tenth of that figure attend one of their games!
England play in Rugby League heartlands in Northern England struggle to break the 20,000 attendance figure. 90% of the people attending games will be English. What chance that even half of the people that will turn out to watch England play Australia will also turn out to watch Fiji take on England, let alone a game like Wales the Cook Islands vs the United States?
All of a sudden you are staring down the fact that, for all but a couple of the games played during the course of the entire 2013 World Cup, even stadiums with a capacity of around 20,000 will be way to large to host games, let alone targeting games at a stadium with a capacity of 75,000!
Why Do We Hold A Rugby League World Cup?
For me, the World Cup should be about celebrating the different communities and different backgrounds of players and supports of the game from around the world.
It should be fun, it should be something you look forward to to see teams you normally don’t get a chance to see.
It should be an opportunity for communities to get behind their national team, to have great contests. You want the next game to be the most important, stuff the final, you want to have fans looking forward to just the next game in their group because that is the one that counts.
Looking at this draw that has been announced, looking at the way teams have been spread between groups, the way teams qualify for the next rounds and the way numbers have been boosted by teams who will be running out park footballers against professionals, the 2013 World Cup will tick none of these boxes.
As a fanatical, die hard fan of the game who wants nothing but success for the game, I’m looking at what is being announced and it scares the hell out of me. This is the 2000 World Cup all over again, in the same place, with many of the same teams, at the same venues run by the same people!
If the RFL can’t go for 12 months without teams at every level of its competitions going into administration, going bust and owing the tax man hundreds of thousands of pounds, why should we believe that they have the financial nous to make what looks like a terrible proposition on paper a financial success?
In the past the RFL has been helped by a strong English Pound, but those days are over. With the English economy in a bad place right now the RFL can no longer bank on exchange rates to save them.
I hold grave fears for the future of the game in Great Britain, and the future of International Rugby League after last nights announcement. The 2000 World Cup almost killed the international game completely, and even now, 10 years on, the scars are still fresh and the stench of the disaster still lingers over test football.
We can not afford a repeat of that happening in 2013. Its not a case “it would be bad”, it would be so much worse. The RFL can’t afford to be left with debts from this tournament, they would not be able to afford it and Australia and New Zealand could not bail them out from such a thing.
So while its all well and good to have a nice little function in Salford (Of all places!), the realities are that the 2013 Rugby League World Cup holds a whole lot more weight than any other Rugby League competition that has ever been played.
If things go bad in 2013, and it looks bad three years out already, it could change the game in ways that even our worst nightmares wouldn’t touch on.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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