The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) Board met over the weekend in Singapore to consider a wide range of items reflecting its leadership of rugby league globally.
Heading the agenda was progressing finalisation of a long range calendar of international matches and tournaments that would allow fans and the many other stakeholders of international rugby league to anticipate and plan their future.
The Board received submissions on the calendar from the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), the Rugby Football League (RFL), the Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation (APRLC) and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF), together with proposals from the RLIF executives.
Aside from locking down matches for the top ranking nations over the long term, the Board also ensured that the international calendar offered a platform for the challenger nations to compete against their more mature counterparts while at the same time paying regard to commercial considerations, player welfare and workload, and global balance.
The calendar centres on a suite of global events in four-year cycles, including Rugby League World Cups, 9s World Cups, European and Asia Pacific Confederation tournaments, Lions, Kangaroos and Kiwi Tours, and opportunities for developing nations.
The Board agreed to undertake consultation with stakeholders to finalise the details for the next two cycles to present to its planned World Rugby League Congress in the UK in November. Key elements of the calendar include:
• Rugby League World Cup in 2021 and 2025
• Kangaroos Tour to UK in 2020
• Kiwi Tour to UK in 2018 and 2022
• Lions tour to southern hemisphere in 2019 and 2024
• 9s World Cup in 2019 and 2023
• 2019 Championships for the Pacific nations in a mid and end of season format
• 2018 European Championship (and then at two-year intervals)
• 2018 Australia v New Zealand Test (annually to 2022)
• 2020 New Zealand fixture(s) in the southern hemisphere
The Board also agreed that World Cup qualifying competitions will expand organically and begin earlier due to the increase in aspiration from the growing membership.
‘There’s clearly still some detail to be finalised, but this is a fantastic announcement that has been a long time coming. It should give great heart and confidence to our international community,’ RLIF Chairman John Grant said.
‘It reflects the broad diversity that exists across our RLIF Member nations and we believe it can provide the certainty our fans, players and commercial stakeholders need to make long term commitments to international rugby league,’ he added.
The Board also dealt with the ongoing work of governance reform and agreed a range of Constitutional changes to be taken forward by the Governance Working Group to be put to Members for a consultation period in September and finally for adoption by Members in General Meeting in the UK in November. The Board indicated the final composition of the board would adopt best practice in independence and diversity and would include an appropriate mix of skills and expertise.
‘The Board had a very robust debate as it should on governance reform. The recommendations from the Working Group hit at the heart of how the Federation needs to govern a global sport in today’s fast changing environment,’ Mr Grant said.
‘The endorsement provided by the Board to the Working Group foreshadows a future that balances the obvious strength and contribution of the major nations and their associated professional leagues with the opportunity to grow the sport in the 65 nations in which it is played across the globe,’ he added.
The Board endorsed a proposal from RLIF CEO Nigel Wood to commence stakeholder engagement to review the process and criteria it applies to sanctioning international matches. This follows a commitment made by RLIF Chairman John Grant in June prior to the Denver Test between New Zealand and England. The review will be led by CEO Nigel Wood and will seek input from a broad range of stakeholders including National Federations, major leagues, professional and semi-professional clubs, players and their association representatives and industry experts. Its scope will include such as the strategic fit of matches within the international calendar, minimum standards, player welfare while on international duty, and insurance, and it will be informed by player data that was accumulated in and around the Denver Test.
‘This is a very significant piece of work that will provide consistency and benchmarks to which our nations must aspire to ensure international rugby league performs at the levels our players, clubs and fans expect,’ Nigel Wood said.
‘The Denver Test exposed all of us alike to this performance standard and has been a positive catalyst for this review,’ he added.
The Board also accepted the resignation of RFL Chairman Mr Brian Barwick. The Board thanked him for his four and a half years of service acknowledging an ongoing relationship with him in his new role as Chairman of Rugby League World Cup 2021.