Rugby league pursues its own American Dream

ANY talk of a Rugby League World Cup being played in the USA would normally elicit a response of a sarcastic “oh really?” followed by the rolling of eyes.
But when the New York Times, no less, features an article on that very subject, then maybe the idea is not as fanciful as it might first seem.
The Newspaper of Record carried such a piece on Tuesday, featuring an interview with Australian sports promoter Jason Moore, who has submitted a bid with the RLIF to host the 2021 World Cup on American soil.
His plan would see the six-week tournament played at eight to ten National Football League or Major League Soccer stadiums and goes up against the bid tabled by The RFL for the World Cup to come back to England recently.
Moore is not just some chancer trying his luck. After all, it was his company, Moore Sports International, which was involved in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers playing two regular-season Major League Baseball games at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
And he spoke with great enthusiasm about the potential for crossover appeal with fans of the NFL, citing the similarities the two sports share and how the “gladiatorial” aspects of rugby league should find favour with the American sporting public.
Cracking the potentially lucrative market across the Atlantic is something many sports have long dreamed of and although football has made some inroads through MLS, the landscape is still overwhelmingly dominated by the big four of the NFL, MLB, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
It is worth remembering rugby league has been here before as well, from aborted attempts by Californian rugby union officials to switch codes just prior to the outbreak of World War II, Mike Dimitro’s American All-Stars and former NFL player Michael Mayer’s stalled efforts to launch a domestic competition in the late 1970s.
And who can forget the Great American Challenge exhibition match between Wigan and Warrington in Milwaukee in 1989, where both sets of players simply set about settling old scores and referee John Holdsworth seemed determined to make himself the centre of attention?

Nevertheless, the progress rugby league has made in the USA since the turn of the century should not be overlooked.
It is perhaps easy to forget how the national team defied the cynics at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, finishing top of Group D by beating more established rugby-playing nations Wales and the Cook Islands, before bowing out to eventual champions Australia in the quarter-finals.
The domestic competition continues to thrive as well, particularly now the sport in America has been re-united under one governing body, and work has been done in growing youth participation.
The challenge, of course, will be convincing the American public to come out and fill the stadiums. After all, some of those cavernous NFL stadiums – and even MLS grounds – will look awfully empty if the marketing is not right.
And then there are the financial risks, with the 2000 Rugby League World Cup serving as a constant reminder of the damage that can be done to the international game by running before learning to walk.
Moore will undoubtedly be aware of all of this though and his bid should not be dismissed as fanciful dreaming.
Besides, rugby league has always been a sport for pushing the boundaries in the face of external criticism and being downtrodden by outsiders. Hosting a World Cup in America may just be a situation where the potential rewards far outweigh any risks.


One comment

  1. yorksranter · August 24, 2016

    Some epic hardnuts in that video. Boyd, Billy McGinty, Andy Goodway BA (Bad Attitude)…


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