Is there any hope for English rugby union?
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The future of the rugby league in England is again at a crossroads.
Although, as all fans know, the game seems to have an odd survivability. Maybe it has to do with the type of people who follow the game or the game itself. For many, it is the quintessential team contact sport on the planet. Yes, fans of other codes and sports would scoff at such a notion, but it still holds true for fans of the 13-a-side game.
However, what do we say when the fan base decreases? What happens when society changes and the way a younger generation engages in sport and recreation is very different from that of the older generation? In essence, what does it matter if fans think they are watching the greatest show in the world, but only 5,000 people are there to watch it?
The COVID pandemic has taken its toll on sports in England, and it could recover – although it isn’t. Sky Sports has cut funding, and that will inevitably have an impact on clubs. As such, the administration is considering a series of changes. Hopefully the unification of the Super League and Rugby Football League is a priority.
While there are other issues, the crowds issue (on many occasions a lack) is an annual concern for the game in England. For example, Salford has traditionally struggled to attract crowds well above 5,000 figures despite his promises over the past two seasons.
In addition, the skill and depth of the player is a major concern for the sport. Undeniably, the community game has suffered over the past two seasons, which leaves more questions than answers. Will the development of actors continue or will the production chain dry up? Next, administrators need to consider: What if the next wave of young people choose other options in a post-COVID and concussion-worried world? Remember that the rugby league already has limited reach and appeal. What if the basis of sport collapses?
Right now, it looks like the governing body is pinning its hopes on a successful World Cup. However, the last time England beat Australia (not like Great Britain) was when the 1995 World Cup opened. Hopes for victory are just that – hope. England are expected to advance to the semi-finals, but Pacific island nations Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea could present a challenge for the current England squad. This likelihood alone shows the decline of the England national team.
Fair enough, they came up against a missed tackle and an upset ankle kick against Australia in 2017, but a tournament won’t solve all the problems in the game. What will be? Fundamental investment. This is a typical answer, but it is still valid.
In addition to this, an investment in the structure of sport at club and international level. The game needs a system that stands the test of time – ideally, Super League clubs should have a first, reserves and academy in place. International success is necessary, but more than one-off victories, sustained success will create momentum with the public and sponsors.
Finally, sport needs investments from outside sources. This investment will allow clubs to recruit the best English talent. If a rugby player can earn £ 30,000 playing for Hull or get paid double for a team in Bristol, then Bristol wins. Sure, people will always watch their home team, but the masses will choose the sport with the best players, that’s where business and sponsorship will follow.
Naturally, there are many pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together before the sport of the rugby league can reach the heights it wants in England. I would suggest funding a media department that promotes the rugby league to a wider audience through local and national media. This process would help attract and promote sponsors, players and the game in general. However, without funds, which clubs desperately need, this idea can be a difficult one.
For Australian fans, they might be wondering: why should Australians care about England? Why should Australia care about England’s performance? Why should Australia care about the popularity of the rugby league in England?
The answer is simple – if the game declines in England to such an extent that they are as competitive in depth and skill as France, then the rugby league in Australia will be more or less like the Australian Football League – only one. local game.
Over time, the lack of international recognition or the ability to attract a global audience will limit the chances of the rugby league getting better sponsorship deals from global partners. The worst part is that if these global brands invest in rugby union, the sport in Australia could become a development path for international union competitions.
Okay, maybe it’s hyperbolic in the pessimism, but why not look for ways to make the game grow? And if Australia can help England in any way, why not?
As fans, we should ask ourselves: can the England national team threaten Australia and win the World Cup? Can the administration of the northern hemisphere reverse the decline in the popularity of sport? Ultimately, is there any hope for the sport of rugby league in England?