• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

League out to develop a profitable international platform

Rugby League threw away a massive competitive advantage over its rival code by failing to capitalise on staging a World Cup more than 30 years before the 15-a-side game, according to the man now in charge of the sport's international development.

Nigel Wood says it is a painful admission, but rather than be bitter or resentful, the Rugby League International Federation's newly elected chairman is focused on absorbing the lesson to be learned and using the knowledge gained to drive forward.

"It is a sobering piece of reflection that we ran the first rugby World Cup in 1954 but we never found a way to commercialise international rugby league," he admitted.

"I can give an explanation and a thesis as to why it's happened, but I can't change any of that. All I can say is that, right now, we've been given a super platform. People are still excited after what the (2013) World Cup did. The potential is there and I'm making it a mission that in 10 years' time international rugby league will be respected by even more people round the globe and be more commercially viable than it is at the moment."

Our conversation took place in Manchester's plush Etihad Stadium during the latest staging of another of the sport's most ambitious events, the Magic Weekend, in which all 14 Super League clubs compete at the same venue.

Wood's "day job" is as chief executive of both the Rugby Football League and Super League, organising and promoting the elite northern hemisphere club game and its supply chains, however he sees himself as an internationalist and wants to see his sport grow.

"This is one occasion where you can look over the fence into someone else's garden and remind yourself that the IRB didn't have a World Cup until 1987, there's only been seven and their expectation in terms of the revenues they're going to generate in 2015 is a quarter-of-a-billion pounds," he said pointedly.

"Within seven cycles they've now got an immensely profitable event, the third biggest global event after the Olympics and the [football] World Cup. I know our challenges are slightly different because we've got fewer nations to start with and more of the elite athletes are concentrated in two, or possibly four countries, but let's adjust to that.

"Now we know what that is, let's adjust accordingly; the World Cup in 2017 has to deliver twice what 2013 did and the World Cup in 2021 has to deliver twice what 2017 did. If you do that we've got a bit of momentum and, the snowball is beginning to turn. Our World Cup delivered £4m. The expectation is that the 2017 World Cup will double that in terms of the bottom line."

Consequently, Wood reckons that this a watershed moment for his sport. "The reason it's a better time to pursue this now is that the World Cup in 2013 has galvanised everybody, it's excited everybody, it's whetted everybody's appetite," he said. "They all recognise what international rugby league could be. Everybody thinks it can be great and, on that basis, there's a bit more belief, there's a bit more commitment."

Yet, as things stand, Scotland's rugby league team are still waiting to find out officially what their schedule will be at this year's European Championships with France, Ireland and Wales, a qualifying tournament to get into next year's glamorous Four Nations tournament with Australia, England and New Zealand.

"That's not good enough," Wood acknowledged. "If a sport expects to be taken seriously, it needs to set out a decade-long calendar. We are on the foothills of an Everest climb in terms of this sport's development internationally.

"It's a very club-centric sport, probably more so than any other sport, but we have now re-established the importance of the international game and the significant way it can add value to the sport."

In saying so, he paid tribute to what Scotland did for the international game last year.

"What happened with Scotland's outstanding achievement is that it defied expectation beforehand," he said. "There was a feeling that some of the nations were just there to make up the numbers and for Scotland to emerge out of a difficult group with difficult opponents has done so much for the sport to demonstrate depth and breadth internationally."

The European Championship schedule is expected to be announced in the next few weeks with at least one match taking place in Scotland.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

234935