UNLESS you have been hiding in a cave on Mars with a hood over your head and your fingers in your ears, you will doubtless be aware that Sam Burgess is officially returning to rugby league.
But amidst all the whooping and high-fiving over one of the sport’s biggest stars re-signing for South Sydney Rabbitohs after an unhappy spell in the 15-man code, those who govern the game were meeting in Paris at the RLIF Congress.
This year’s Congress was, rather grandiosely, titled ‘Global Conversion’. Although the average league fan’s views of the sport’s administrators, many would imagine such an event to involve little more than Nigel Wood, David Collier et al sitting around smoking cigars, quaffing brandy and swapping saucy anecdotes*.
Items on the programme of events included conducting the draw for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup European qualifiers and discussing the international calendar.
The major news to come out of the Congress though was the launch of the RLIF’s Strategic Plan for 2018 to 2025 – which you too can be a proud owner of by downloading it here!
Perhaps the key point to come out of the new plan is the ten ‘key initiatives’ the RLIF intend to enact during the eight-year time frame from the conclusion of the next World Cup. They are as follows:
– Create an eight-year calendar of events
– Enhance recognition of members by National Olympic Committee/nation sports agencies
– Introduce performance-related grants
– Target two additional G20 nations for expansion
– Provide context to international matches
– Grow rugby league’s supporter base
– Enhance neutrality and global consistency of regulations, officiating and Laws
– Enhance the image of the RLIF and rugby league
– Create long-term sponsorship and broadcast partnerships
– Enhance cash reserves of the top tier nations and RLIF
The majority of those points are fairly self-explanatory, but several of them bear closer examination.
One of the recurring themes throughout the Strategic Plan is the need for the Laws of the Game (always in capital letters, those Laws) and the way they are interpreted and applied by the match officials to be consistent across the globe.
Quite frankly, this is something which should have been implemented years ago, The fact the two main domestic competitions, Super League and the NRL, both operate under different interpretations, along with international matches have their own slight variations as well, is a bizarre state of affairs.
Whether or not this will see an expansion of the NRL’s two on-field referee system remains to be seen, yet there would need to be a growth in the number of suitably qualified match officials before this could even be considered.
No doubt taking a cue from the way rugby union has expanded around the world with sevens, there is much talk of growing the nines variant of league. This includes building on an under-19s nines event being an exhibition sport at last year’s Commonwealth Games.
Crucially, the RLIF recognise the importance of television coverage being balanced between subscription and free-to-air TV, which might allay fears about live coverage disappearing entirely behind a paywall as happened when chief executive Collier was involved with the England & Wales Cricket, and they decided to sell exclusive Test and domestic rights to Sky Sports.
Also listed are aims for what rugby league will look like by 2025, with one of the most eye-catching being to have half of the teams in a 16-country men’s World Cup and eight-nation women’s World Cup being able to compete for the title.
Presently, no-one outside Australia, New Zealand and possibly England could even be considered contenders for the World Cup. Even rugby union’s equivalent, with 20 teams contesting the recent tournament, could not genuinely claim to have more than – at a push – four or five teams in with a chance of going on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
To establish some depth will require significant funding to grow the game and the talent pool in other nations, to which end the RLIF aim to be distributing at least 75 per cent of their income – projected to be £35million by 2025 – among their member nations.
Yet for all the grand talk and ambition in the document, there are few details as to actually how any of this is meant to be achieved.
Let us hope this does not prove yet another false dawn and that actions of the game’s governing body will finally start back up the words.
*Dramatisation, may not have happened (but probably did)