So what is a Rugby League World Cup supposed to be about?
It’s an interesting question and one that could have a thousands different answers.
For me a Rugby League World Cup has always been about the countries I don’t normally get to see. In fact, in any international competitions we have in our game, whether it be the World Sevens, the World Cup or even just the Four Nations, its always the games that don’t involve Australia, New Zealand or Great Britain that fascinate me.
I love watching France play Rugby League. They play the game like its meant to be played. Sure they haven’t got the fitness or the defense of top sides, but damn their football is good to watch.
I love watching Papua New Guinea rip in to opposition sides who are almost always better equip ed and better payed. To think that most PNG test players really have walked out of a jungle, jumped on a plane and are belting pampered professional footballers, how can you not love that!
Samoa and Tonga, right now, it is the second best matchup in international Rugby League. The best test match I watched in 2010 was the Four Nations Final. The second best? Samoa vs Tonga at Parramatta Stadium.
Fiji, the Cook Islands, heck, even the United States and Lebanon, these are the teams that make any World Cup special to me.
After these teams, I think what the 2008 World Cup opened my eyes up to was the communities that follow these teams.
I can’t put into words how special it was to see the Samoan and Tongan communities support their teams in the 2008 World Cup. It wasn’t just football, it wasn’t a night out, it meant so much more than that.
It was about who they are as a people, it was about representing two cultures that are thousands of years old. They wanted to win, they wanted to beat their traditional rival, but the real achievement was that they were there, they were proud and they could cheer on their fellow countrymen.
Without those two things, the lesser seen Rugby League nations, and the communities that support and celebrate our game, the Rugby League World Cup is a soulless competition with little to capture the wider publics imagination.
That is why the things I am seeing in England right now are really worrying me. I feel like the people organizing the 2013 World Cup have missed the point.
English Rugby League is very insular. It is a world of its own. You can see that in a lot of the attitudes that come across from many English supporters, journalists and even teams when they have to face up to international opposition.
The English think that you have Australia and New Zealand, that we hate each other and that we are two very separate places. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In Australia and New Zealand, we all know we are all one big Rugby League community, even if we have a distance between us. New Zealand relies on Australia, we rely on New Zealand, we cultivate the game and we don’t care where any of us come from.
Our Rugby League culture is that you grow up in either country and you play in sides at every level that have Aussies, Kiwi’s Samoans, Tongans….there is no great divide.
What we are seeing right now out of England is that the 2013 World Cup is all about them.
Its the “Golden Decade” that includes the Olympics, the Rugby League and Rugby Union World Cups.
Its about English clubs looking to works deals that will see them gain some financial advantage out of 2013 World Cup games.
Its English administrators talking about spreading the games across Great Britain to try and attract new fans to the sport.
Its all about the England team looking to build a foundation that might actually be competitive in 2013.
England, England, England…..its all about England.
Even down to the announcement of the 2013 World Cup Draw, which game out of no where, was done in Salford of all places, and just seemed to be a lot of chest beating by the RFL.
I saw England and Wales, but the distinct lack of representation from any other nation was stark. It was embarrassing!
After a decade in which we saw Australia and New Zealand play test series after test series in the UK to make the RFL money and work of debts from the 2000 World Cup, have the English mistakenly become so self important that they don’t realize that, they are just one nation is a much wider Rugby League community?
The 2008 World Cup, held entirely in Australia certainly wasn’t all about Australia.
The draw was set up so that lesser seen nations could play competitive games, would not be embarrassed with blowout scorelines, and they were played in areas where their fans could attend games and in stadiums that were the most suited for the expected crowds they would draw.
Travel for teams was taken into account, the organizers tried to avoid the need for players and fans to have to board planes every weekend to follow their team.
It was a whole community view about what was best for the game. The 2008 organizers thought about the minnows of the Rugby League world as much as they thought about the big guns.
The 2008 World Cup was brilliantly run, was a success on the field, a financial success and game the international game probably its most memorable moment in decades.
Meanwhile, over in England, once again, its all about them. What can they get out of the World Cup.
I’ve been worried about the 2013 Rugby League World Cup for a while now. I think it was the wrong decision to hold it in Great Britain. We should have built on the success of the 2008 tournament, we needed to give the majority of our Rugby League communities another chance to become involved in international Rugby League and we needed to keep the World Cup on Rugby League biggest stage, which is in the Southern Hemisphere.
I fear that another poorly run competition in England could be a disaster for the international game. The focus is in the wrong place, its not about England, the World Cup is about all of us that support this great game.
It will take the 2013 World Cup organizers to realize if we are going to have a competition that actually adds to the value of the international game. If they don’t do it in time, 2013 could be a bigger financial and footballing disaster than the 2000 World Cup was.
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