With the 2013 Rugby League World Cup being all about redemption for Australia, the 2017 edition must be about expansion, to a new world and a new market.
Whilst the other bid, a joint-bid from New Zealand and Australia might guarantee more financial security, a World Cup hosted by the two countries will have little impact in growing a worldwide fan-base and enhancing the sport on a global stage.
Should the South African be accepted, rugby league will break into a market it has yet to crack. Undisputedly the strongest of all union nations yet to embrace league, this opportunity may be the RLIF’s one chance to break the walls down.
Yet to turn professional and without any media coverage, the sport is not known by many South Africans, including the most avid rugby union enthusiasts. Despite this, fully-built, state of the art football, rugby and cricket stadiums are already on-hand to host the Rugby League showpiece.
A World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will only be a form of giving back, giving back to an existing fan-base, whereas a South African World Cup builds one.
Despite being the oldest rugby World Cup, the league version has declined far behind its union counterpart. With the union event held consistently every four years from its inception in 1987, the tournament has grown in size and stature through every event.
The birth of professionalism after the 1995 World Cup has meant that rugby union has grown significantly, leaving league in the background with less-profile international matches and tournaments and q World Cup that has chopped and changed formats, not held consistently and now with less glamour that the union equivalent. Around the world league has fallen behind union – in some nations it’s never taken off- the time for change is now.
History has shown that other major – and perhaps more well-known- international sporting federations have taken their respective World Cups and international
tournaments to new, unchartered territories. In 1994 FIFA staged the football World Cup in the United States. Much like rugby league in South Africa, the game of football was unknown to many Americans. Much like South Africa with rugby league, the United States didn’t even have a professional domestic league, the rest as they say is history.
The staging of the football World Cup have been awarded to part of the world that had never hosted the global showpiece, places such as Russia, Qatar, Japan South Korea and the self-same South Africa. Rugby Union awarded Japan the 2017 World Cup, the ICC staged the first two editions of the ICC Knockout (now Champions Trophy) in Kenya and Bangladesh. Expansion to new, unconquered or emerging markets is the name of the sporting game.
Since the re-emergence of South Africa in the International sporting world, South Africa
has become a proven country as far as hosting major sporting events are concerned. In Addition to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa have also hosted two CAF African Cup of Nations, an ICC Cricket World Cup, the first ICC World T20, two ICC T20 Champions Leagues, an ICC Champions Trophy and an Indian Premier League on short-notice.
Then, perhaps more importantly than any world cup across all-sports, South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. No World Cup will ever serve such parallel importance.
It remains one of the most iconic memories in sport. The image of the then-President, the late Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey and matching cap when presenting the trophy to the team's Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar. Mandela's jersey had Pienaar's number 6 on the back. The presentation was widely seen as a sign of reconciliation between South Africa's black and white communities.
A World Cup which inspired and helped unify a nation, with and ending becoming one of the most emotional moments in the history of any world cup from any sport. Hosting international events have become a tool for nation-building and unity in a once divided country.
A 2017 World Cup could be the first World Cup - across any sport - after the death of its former-statesmen to show the world the legacy the great man has left behind.
Whilst a Rugby League World Cup certainly won’t have such a fairytale ending – and possibly inspire a book and movie – its relevance in giving life to a sport where it has been lying dormant for decades is an opportunity not to be missed.
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