Photo Credit: Carolyn Ritchie
All four Americas nations that took part in the Rugby League European Confederation (RLEF) annual congress meeting are in lockstep over the need for the creation of a new Americas Confederation.
The RLEF held its ACM online at the weekend due to COVID-19 restricting travel across international borders. Among the national governing bodies that participated in the virtual meeting were USA Rugby League (USARL), Canada Rugby League Association (CRLA), Jamaica Rugby League Association (JRLA) and the Rugby Football League 13 Chile.
All of them are of the opinion that an Americas Confederation is necessary.
“On a global level, the game is growing with more and more countries developing the game,” USARL’s Billy Neilson told Rugby League Planet.
“With the RLEF handling all of the Americas, it spreads them thin administratively and financially. The game is at a tipping point here and in order to continue to foster the growth of the game we need to get it done. It will help us build strategies and structures in regard to coaching, referees, and building out an international calendar.”
Neilson said USARL is also pleased with the rate of expansion of rugby league internationally.
“With the amount of nations developing programs and with the women’s programs growing, it leads to more opportunities for everyone. Having 9s becoming more popular helps us get more high-level games as well,” he said.
Those sentiments are largely echoed by CRLA president Bob Jowett, who believes an Americas Confederation is the way to go. He thinks having the RLEF responsible for more than half the world is too big an ask, particularly as geographical regions have different issues to deal with.
“I’m a believer in local governance which would be one of the main benefits,” he said. “As it stands, Canada, the US, and Chile (as a minimum) are torn between UK and Australian influences – the west coasts are Australian/NZ driven and the east coasts UK driven.
“Whilst the two influencers have more similarities than differences there is a slight conflict – with neither influencer being fully aware of the opportunities and challenges that we face.
“As usual, financing is a major issue. Having a separate confederation introduces extra costs, but certainly has the potential to generate significant additional funding. It is likely that sponsors would be more likely to invest in a sport that covers their region of interest – but time will tell!”
Jowett said one specifically Canadian issue that would need to be addressed as part of the establishment of an Americas Confederation would be the status of the country’s two professional clubs.
“They play in the UK based leagues with ties through the RLEF,” he said. “I don’t see that status changing any time in the foreseeable future so any confederation agreement would have to accommodate the Wolfpack and the Aces. Not to do so would be suicidal.”
In terms of growing the international game, Jowett thinks there has not been as much interest/growth than is happening at present.
“The formation of national teams in Africa and South America in particular is exciting and novel,” he added. “Longer term, there is the possibility of significant regional competitions. Also, in time would be great to see more nations competing in the RL World Cup.”
As far as Jamaica is concerned, again, the NGB backs the idea of a new confederation.
“Yes, Jamaica does think the Americas Confederation is important,” said JRLA vice chairman Adrian Hall. “It would help promote our own identity which will then ensure stronger membership in the region with more full members and affiliate members of the IRL.”
In terms of whether the international game is heading in the right direction, Hall believes it is.
“The JRLA is satisfied with the direction that the international game is expanding of course there could be more being done; however, we are happy with the way the game is progressing right now,” he said.
And the feeling is much the same in Chile. RFL13Chile director and national team head coach Rod Millar said they believe an Americas Confederation would be a move in the right direction as the Americas is the next frontier of growth.
“Geographically it makes sense that we would be closely integrated with each other,” he said. “Internationals would be cost effective; it would cut back on player expense to represent and perhaps more importantly, a benefit of being a confederation is that we could ask to be given a position in a World Cup.”
One other issue that was touched on during the Americas group session of the RLEF’s virtual meeting was the Americas Championship, which was cancelled this year because of the global pandemic.
The RLEF has tentatively scheduled it for May 2021 in the USA and although COVID restrictions are still in place, everyone is planning and preparing for it to go ahead as scheduled.