International rugby league is our best weapon against crass ignorance

The BBC has recently published an article wondering how ‘rugby’ players can stand such ‘huge hits’.

The article’s opening sentence begins “Since rugby went professional…”

It will take league fans about a second to spot what is wrong with that statement, and about another half second to feel a surge of justified rage.

Whilst the BBC’s coverage of the Challenge Cup and Four Nations has been good recently, especially in its selection of pundits, such ignorance shows that we still have a long way to go as a sport.

One million viewers apparently tuned into the highlights of the Four Nations final, and hundreds of thousands watched England’s games live in the early hours of weekend mornings in the same tournament.

One might therefore suppose that finally the tide was turning back in our direction, and that such numbers might result in a more respectful and knowledgeable approach to how ‘rugby’ is covered.

The problem really, is the use of the word ‘rugby’, which seems more and more, as it does in the Southern Hemisphere, to simply mean rugby union.

Changing this is difficult. Should we look to change the name of the sport, as such luminaries as Phil Caplan have suggested?

Or is it up to us as fans of the Greatest Game to make sure that we keep fighting hard to keep our sport in the spotlight, and hold broadcasters to account by commenting on articles and making we sure we work to correct errors we spot?

The BBC moving their sports and media coverage ‘Up North’ to Salford was meant to help with this kind of thing, but it sometimes seems that two steps forward are always accompanied by at least one step back and maybe one or two to the side.

International Emphasis

Of course, one good way of combatting general ignorance is to have more rugby league on mainstream, free-to-air television.

The international game is vital to this. International sport will always pull in more general sports fans, and help to leave an impression in their minds.

What should give us hope is the news that the RLIF seems to be getting its house in order at last, if somewhat slowly and haltingly.

RLIF chairman Nigel Wood visited the Cook Islands and Samoa last week before heading to the Four Nations final in Wellington.

“At the moment the RLIF is in the process of developing its international calendar to the 2021 World Cup so nations will be in a much better position in planning their international commitments,” he said.

We now have confirmation that an international calendar is being developed for the long term, with test series, and a probable revival of the GB Lions, becoming the focus.

The Pacific nations are also pencilled in for more tests over the next decade or so. something which we have needed for a long time.

The annual Pacific Test, held recently in Penrith in Sydney, will be expanded to a double-header, giving Pacific nations more guaranteed games.

NRL Help

Things are already moving forward in Fiji too.

“The NRL will have their own set-up, like having their own chief executive officer and their experts from Australia based in Fiji,” Fiji National Rugby League chairman Reverend Immanuel Rueben told the Fiji Sun recently.

“This is part of the NRL’s Pacific strategic plan of setting up their base in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. The NRL will become the FNRL’s development partners.”

The NRL already has 12 staff working at similar roles in Papua New Guinea, and continues to work with PNGRL officials to strengthen the Kumuls.

The NRL’s sheer financial muscle should see the game begin to thrive in the Pacific. It would be nice to see similar resources devoted to establishing professional club teams in Scotland and Ireland too.

Whatever we might think about the other code and its adherents, one thing that they do really well is maximise the international appeal of their sport to bring in casual viewers and general sports fans.

It has taken a while for the penny to drop in league, especially Down Under, but we now seem to be making progress.

Hopefully that means that better informed features will soon appear in the mainstream media of the UK.

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