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This week’s letter is from Serbian rugby league fan, Vuk Popovic.
To my beloved rugby league,
When you grow up in a country that had zero exposure to rugby union or league it is kind of a long shot that either code will enter your bloodstream. But that was exactly what happened to me some 13 years ago, thanks to the free online streams and on demand games of NRL and State of Origin.
It wasn’t a love at first sight, but this sport grew on me until I became completely overwhelmed with the skill, pace and overall spectator value of this sport. I became rugby league mad, founded a club in my hometown in Serbia and did some hard yards on and off the field, trying to keep club afloat financially.
In the process I met some of the most exceptional people that got infected with the rugby league virus themselves. It took some time but people around me started watching more and more games, some becoming quite obsessed talking about it all the time. Free online streams had helped people to get introduced to the greatest game of all. Now, that is all over. NRL decided to start charging international viewers around 150 euros per season. That doesn’t sound much and all major sport are doing it, right? But guess what rugby league: YOU ARE NOT A MAJOR SPORT, and you will never be.
It hurts me so much to say this but rugby league has no future. Australians do not really care about developing the game globally, English are no better. Just 10 thousand people watching Kangaroos in Canberra during a World Cup plus final in Brisbane with empty seats are hard facts for me to grasp considering the beauty and value of our game. Shame on you Australia. Shame on you for trying to charge 150 euros from somebody in Jamaica or Ghana for watching a sport they are starting to love. Hell, majority of people in Serbia are working full time for 150 euros per month, some even less.
You are not a developed sport rugby league and you fail to develop because of this short sightedness. All this is coming from somebody that spend a lot of time at grassroots level. I have seen the people’s passion and enthusiasm only to see them disappointed time after time by wrongdoings of people that do not care at all if game is played outside their shire. If you don’t care Australia and England how can we?
To add some salt on a wound, while I am writing this there is a England -Scotland union game playing live on a tv (regular cable tv station). Keep saying to myself it is not too inferior to the real thing. The more we love you rugby league, more you abuse us.
Editor: It is incredibly frustrating that while the game has a seemingly endless battle with expansion and a desire to enter new markets, that people who have found the game organically are being switched off. Yes, the NRL has to protect its asset – but surely there’s a better way than this?