World Cup postponement adds to uncertainty over rugby league’s future | Rugby league
Rugby league is no stranger to being in a state of flux. On the contrary, few sports are more defined by their issues and problems, but this week, more than ever, uncertainty hangs over the game in Britain like never before.
The headline, of course, is that there won’t be a Rugby Union World Cup this year, with the tournament being pushed back to 2022 after the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand failed. ultimately left the tournament organizers with no choice but to postpone.
Yet perhaps unbeknownst to the NRL – considered by many to be the primary instigators of the decision that led the Kangaroos and Kiwis to withdraw from the World Cup – the move will have potentially serious ramifications there. of the world. Major Australian clubs are in a biosecure bubble to ensure they complete the NRL season, but there is also a long-held belief in UK club boards that the Australian Rugby League is also functioning in a metaphorical bubble, where anything that doesn’t belong to their country the game just doesn’t matter.
Whatever the reasons for the withdrawal from the World Cup, there is no doubt that the impact will be felt much harder in British football than among its counterparts in the Antipodes. Here, the rugby league is virtually on life support thanks to Covid-19, with major structural changes being brought up again, and many clubs are barely going through the pandemic – and its financial implications – in one piece. Yes, Australian clubs have had problems, but nothing on the scale of their northern counterparts.
The World Cup was seen as a watershed moment not only for generating interest and participation in the rugby league in Great Britain, but also for providing much needed financial stability. It is hoped that the important trade deals and broadcast arrangements put in place by the tournament organizers will still be in effect in 2022, but there is also a feeling that the rugby league needed those revenues this fall, not the next. . There is a very real fear that some clubs outside of the Super League may find it difficult to survive.
Few sports depend on the income of their communities and supporters like the rugby league. With many supporters locked out over the past 18 months and the early post-lockdown crowds much weaker than they were before the pandemic, to suggest that the sport is walking a financial tightrope would be an understatement. There were sold-out sales almost everywhere England played. Historic league clubs like Rochdale also relied on packed houses for other games to bring in living money as well. They now have to wait a year for this refund.
This is part of why the Rugby Football League has been so aggressive in its disapproval of the Kangaroos and Kiwis withdrawal: it has only darkened the sport’s gloom from a financial standpoint at a time when many are ‘were already worried about where the match went next, and the people the Australian Rugby Commission and New Zealand Rugby League decision hits the hardest are the ones who were powerless to do anything either about it.
There is also the social impact of the World Cup which cannot be replaced. Again, building interest in the rugby league in Australia is a snap, but it’s not that easy here. With government funding in the amount of £ 25million, Jon Dutton and his team were able to set up community programs across the country, which would have left the rugby league in a much stronger position to build bottom up: a mantra she rarely adopts. Hopefully Dutton – a rare glimmer of optimism among the administration of the rugby league – can continue the momentum in 2022 and recover something from this unfortunate wreckage.
Of course, with a World Cup-shaped hole in the calendar this fall, there are already calls for the Super League to use the opportunity to their advantage and extend a regular season that is in danger of falling apart. Almost 20 matches have already been called off due to Covid-19 issues among clubs in 2021, and with only a handful of those who managed to hurry at a later date, there are growing concerns about this. that will happen next.
The integrity of the competition is, to some extent, intact with the decision already taken to allow clubs to qualify for the play-offs as long as they complete 18 games, a tally that most clubs should be able to handle. to reach. But the issue returned to the forefront on Saturday, when Warrington’s game with Hull FC was called off due to cases of Covid in the Hull squad. “I think it’s a worrying time for the Super League,” admits Castleford chief medical officer Nick Raynor. “If there are no changes outside of the sport for testing and scoring, I’m concerned the season is at risk.”
Expanding the campaign to get those missed matches seems like a possible option for the sport – but not everyone agrees. “I think we should continue as we are,” added Hull coach Brett Hodgson. “The date for the Grand Final is set in pencil, and from a player welfare point of view, I think the guys deserve a longer break.”
This feeling is echoed throughout the competition by the players and coaches, but above all, they are not the ones who will make the decision. These are the presidents and general managers who, perhaps understandably, seek to find ways to maximize income and keep their clubs and the sport’s existence alive. But extending this season would be a kick in the box, as it would result in a shorter pre-season in 2022, leading to another crowded season before ending with – hopefully – a World Cup.
The World Cup will take place in 2022 no matter what. But the landscape and outlook for the rugby league on these shores could be drastically different by the time the kangaroos and kiwis finally arrive.