Rugby League World Cup criticism misses the point | 2013 RLWC

2013 RLWCBy John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 28/11/13

Bagging the World Cup as just being boring, predictable and one-sided ignores the real successes the tournament has generated.

Yes some of the games in the World Cup were not contests. Some were mismatches. But this happens in every World Cup in every sport.

2013 RLWCBy John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 28/11/13

Bagging the World Cup as just being boring, predictable and one-sided ignores the real successes the tournament has generated.

Yes some of the games in the World Cup were not contests. Some were mismatches. But this happens in every World Cup in every sport.

Take a look at the most recent Rugby World Cup, staged in New Zealand in 2011. In that competition the All Blacks beat Japan 83-7 and Canada 79-15. The Wallabies defeated the United States 67-5 and Russia 68-22. South Africa beat Namibia 87-0 and Wales beat Fiji 66-0. In the most recent FIFA World Cup, held in South Africa in 2010, North Korea were spanked 7-0 by Portugal. In the most recent Cricket World Cup, held on the sub-continent in 2011, Pakistan beat Kenya by 205 runs and Sri Lanka beat Canada by 210 runs.

Lopsided scores were a feature in 2013 Rugby League World Cup, but they happen in other similar tournaments as well.

Only three nations have won rugby league’s showpiece event – Australia, England and New Zealand. These three teams made up four of the semi-finals. But how does this compare with other sports?

In rugby union only four countries have won their World Cup – New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England. In football eight nations have won it – Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Germany, England, Italy, Spain and France. In cricket five nations have taken home the trophy - West Indies, India, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. So, again, rugby league is not that different.

Also, player eligibility and origin has come under fire at our World Cup. But it does not differ greatly from other codes. Football has its grandparent rule and naturalised rule. So does cricket and rugby union, not to mention Olympic sports.

International rugby league needs more even contests and greater competition, but that will only happen if more matches at Test level for the minnows are played. If developing nations receive more support and funding. 

FIFA in football, the IRB in rugby and the ICC in cricket all spend big money on development and their countries, big and small, play in regular competitions. This does not happen in rugby league with the RLIF. There needs to be regular games for the Scotlands, USAs, Wales, Tongas and others outside of a World Cup every five years. If we can do that then we can start to bridge the gab between the big three nations and the rest.

Judging the World Cup without ever going to one of its games live and soaking up the action is unfair. It ignores the impact on the ground the tournament is having, the experience fans have received in places like Bristol, Rochdale and Avignon, and achievements made in Ireland and London.

I have been to World Cup games at Warrington, St Helens, Leigh, Salford, Halifax and Wembley, and have been pleasantly thrilled with what I have seen.

Entertaining matches, excited crowds, passionate displays, tremendous tries and great drama have all been part of the action. The emergence of new stars. Shock upsets and surprise endings. Stadiums have been packed, tickets have been fairly priced, the media coverage has been good and audiences have gone away getting their money’s worth.

The drama at Wembley, with England heart-broken in the final seconds, is up there in the emotion stakes with any NRL or Origin game I have ever seen. That semi final was watched by a peak audience of 2.83 million on the BBC and by 67,000 in England’s national stadium. These numbers are important.

Around 70,000 will be on hand for the final at Old Trafford. These are figures that can be built upon. This World Cup is also expected to make a profit, so there is another reason why it should be staged again.

Player burnout is certainly an issue, but it remains one regardless of the World Cup or not. There are other things that can be done to limit the wear on players, like not introducing a new tournament like the Auckland 9’s or moving State of Origin to a standalone match three weeks of the year.

And it isn’t just the fans on the ground who have enjoyed this World Cup, it is the players as well. Ask legend Petro Civoniceva whether he thinks the tournament has been worth it or not. I did and this is what he said to me: “Everything that I expected of it. I guess for me, being late in my career, just to get that opportunity to play over here in the UK and to represent Fiji for the first, for myself, has been an amazing experience. All in all the quality of the football, and I’m sure English fans have really enjoyed the World Cup on their front door. It’s been awesome.”

That’s a ringing endorsement from one of the best props to ever represent Queensland and Australia, a modern icon of the game.

I spoke to Greg Bird straight after the semi-final win over Fiji and he felt exactly the same. The Gold Coast Titans, NSW and Australian forward said the World Cup is definitely worthwhile.

“There’s more countries that play the game then just Australia, England and New Zealand, and I think the World Cup’s shown that,” Bird told me.

“People have come out and supported all the countries, the teams have been competitive in their own right, every team. I find it disappointing people can come out and sit on the beach in Australia and bag it, that aren’t here. The effect that it’s having on the fans and the teams that are involved. Look at Fiji’s Vodafone sponsorship – that sort of sponsorship probably wouldn’t have happened without the World Cup. For anyone to say that it’s a waste of time it’s a bit immature I think.”

Some journalists and fans in Australia need to realise that rugby league is not just about Australia and the NRL. The sport is bigger than that. Theirs is insular view that needs to change. I once thought the same but by experiencing a World Cup first-hand, and witnessing the impact first-hand, my eyes have been opened.

Criticism from the outside and without doing any research is easy. Maintaining a balanced view and looking beyond your immediate environment, and going out of your comfort zone, is much harder.

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