The 2017 Rugby League World Cup is close to kickoff and I could write a thousand articles about different aspects of the tournament that most people don’t give a damn about.
Eligibility rules, qualification criteria, the fact that no one knows where the money goes and who actually controls it….most people simply don’t give a shit.
So here is a bigger question to ponder over. Why do we have a Rugby League World Cup? What is the purpose of the World Cup? What do we hope to achieve by playing a World Cup tournament?
Some people will say its about opening Rugby League up to new markets, but to what end? Do we want to see people throw on a paid of boots and have a game of Rugby League with their mates in places like Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Lebanon, or does opening up a new market really just mean we want to seed a commercial base for NRL and Super League clubs to step into so they can play exhibition matches every decade or so in these countries?
Are we trying to “spread the word” about this great, exciting game in the hope that as many people as possible will show interest in it and make it “their game”, or do we just want new customers who can be added to spreadsheets, who we can sell product to, and who we can ultimately sell off to advertisers?
Is the Rugby League World Cup about the sport of Rugby League, or is it about bolstering the commercial reach of a handful of businesses who trade in the game, lining their pockets, and ultimately the pockets of business people who make a living off of running this sport so poorly?
You know what my answer to all of this is? I really don’t know….
When it comes to international Rugby League, I’m a purest. I’d have each team filled only with players who were born in that country. I’d live with the 100-0 score lines. I want to see how dudes from Italy play the game against dudes from Lebanon. I’d only allow countries to play who have viable local leagues as well as junior competitions. The Rugby League World Cup would be a pure sporting contest that showcased the true playing ability of different nations.
The problem is, I might be the only person on earth that wants any of that, and I’m not a sustainable market!
So what we have are teams that are made up on the run, not by necessity, but by choice. Its not like any of these countries don’t have born and bred players from their own nations, many of whom helped these nations qualify to participate in the World Cup. These teams just decide not to choose those players. They love having NRL and Super League players in their sides who didn’t get a run with Australia, New Zealand or England. Their coaches don’t care about the sport, they just care about results, so stuff the game and the players back “at home”, lets just make a few calls to QLD and NSW Cup players and we will ask them whether they want to watch the tournament on TV or if they want to represent the nations their grandparents where born in.
It all makes the World Cup hard to take seriously as a pure sporting contest. It is impossible to watch the World Cup and see it as any sort of measure as to where the sport stands globally.
As I’ve said for many years now…if Rugby League can’t take itself seriously, why should anyone else?
The questions life long, die hard supporters have about the World Cup are very reasonable. By the time you get to the casual sports supporter who just wants to get into a new sport for a change, those reasonable questions become a very easy reason to write the whole sport off.
“A player born in New Zealand, who played for New Zealand a few months ago, will now play against New Zealand for Tonga? Really? I’m out!”
We can just focus the World Cup on people that already follow the game. We can be happy to play make believe for a month or so that we are watching true international teams from around the world and pretend that these games are being watched overseas in countries that many of the players in these teams have never been to themselves. Its all very simple, we just keep doing what we are doing right now.
The flip side to all of that is, we don’t end up growing the game at all.
As someone that loves the international game, who loves Rugby League where ever it is played, who believes that the dude in Canada that plays the game on a weekend is just as important as Cameron Smith or Billy Slater, I can’t watch a team claiming to be from Europe, when I know for a fact that most of them were born within an hour of where I was born in Sydney, and take it seriously.
The 2017 Rugby League World Cup has been set up and run as a competition between internationally badged franchises. That is how I will be watching the competition.
What that does for the sport of Rugby League, that is anyone’s guess. If it makes money and that helps grow the actual sport itself, maybe its an means to an end. Its just a shame the sport needs to sell its credibility to get there.