It wasn’t that long ago that Rugby League was a really ambitious sport that was willing to take itself to the world and dare them to not enjoy the game. Unfortunately that sense of adventure Rugby League once had died off during The Super League War, and it was replaced with cynicism and conservative thinking.
News that an official bid had been made by a consortium in the United States for the country to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup flew right in the face of that conservative thinking. It was exciting to read the statement made by the bid team, and the ambition being shown for a game that we all feel the world will love if it just gets a chance to see it and feel involved.
The Rugby League World Cup has a long, and varied, history. At one point the World Cup trophy went missing for decades! The tournament has been held in various formats, and with varying degrees of success, but for the last few tournaments things have settled into ultra conservative lane ways that administrators of the game have been terrified to leave.
The thing that needs to be remembered if that the Rugby League World Cup always needs to turn a profit. Profit that comes from the World Cup goes back in to developing the game internationally. If the World Cup is run at a loss, there is no funding for the international game. You can see why administrators are not all that willing to break away from the tried and tested markets, and that is why Australia/New Zealand and Great Britain continue to take turns in hosting the World Cup.
So, why should the United States host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup?
The United States has a market so large that even a tiny portion of it would be a huge financial boon Rugby League. Rugby League actually has a strong, self sustaining presence in the United States in the USARL. Unlike a lot of Rugby League competitions you see in supposed “expansion” markets, the USARL doesn’t need help or handouts from anyone else. The USARL have created their own unique scene, one that isn’t just supported by expats. There are even clubs like the Rhode Island Rebellion who run programs in local schools to introduce youngsters to our great game.
This is one Rugby League playing nation that has found its footing, and one that would get a fantastic boost out of hosting the Rugby League World Cup.
The infrastructure to host games is most certainly there, with a number of fantastic, fan friendly venues that could be used. Some of the Major League Soccer stadiums in particular would be great to host major games at, and you can be sure that 2021 World Cup organisers would at least take own or two of the biggest games to world class venues such as AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys and in my opinion the best stadium on earth) or even somewhere historic like Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox), a venue that has hosted major soccer matches in the past.
The USA 2021 bid team has mentioned that they want to start up a professional league of their own, however one of the key components of their bid must, without any shadows of a doubt, have the backing of the USARL and its clubs, and work with the governing body so that we do not see another split in the game in the United States after the last one that dragged on for way too many years.
Would a World Cup hosted in the United States make a profit? That is anyone’s guess!
With good management it should be able to. With well thought out marketing, a good social media campaign, the support of the USARL and its clubs, as well as choosing venues wisely and not overreaching too much, if Rugby League can’t turn a profit when it plays a World Cup in the biggest sporting market in the world then something is fundamentally wrong with what we are doing with the World Cup itself.
I hate nothing more than boring decisions made by our games administrators, and as someone that is a big supporter of Rugby League played outside of Australia and northern England, I would love to see a World Cup played in a new country.
It is time for Rugby League to be bold and brave with its decisions once again. If we think Rugby League really is the greatest game of all, we need to start showing the confidence in the game and start taking it to the rest of the world.
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