Participation figures drop 25% as COVID puts squeeze on rugby league

The impact of coronavirus saw the number of registered rugby league participants in England fall by 25% in 2020 from the previous year.

A figure of 44,215 in 2019 fell to 33,706 last year, with the community and women’s game decimated by the virus, and only Super League able to continue at professional level.

The participants number takes in to account all coaches, match officials and players at all levels.

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There were small increases in participation in France (up 129), Greece (30), Ukraine (203) and Wales (76) according to figures released by the European Rugby League federation in its annual report.

ERL chairman Maurice Watkins said: “2020 has presented several challenges that none of us expected and none of us would have foreseen the effects that the global pandemic have had on international Rugby League.

“It has been a very disruptive and challenging year for many of our members and many have lost momentum. We know clubs, coaches, match officials, staff and volunteers will be looking forward to progressing Rugby League again in 2021 and beyond and ERL looks forward to playing a leading role.”

Only seven countries in Europe saw any rugby league action in 2020, although the Netherlands were able to host what was the only international match of the year, beating Germany 20-18 to win the Griffin Cup in September.

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There was also an impact on the finances of the European federation, who reported a loss of £82,081 – 10 times what had been budgeted for, though it does have £276,000 in the bank as of the end of 2020.

The European Championship in 2020 had been due to be the first in its new format, that would have seen six teams take part in the top tier competition.

Reigning champions France were drawn in a group with Scotland and Italy, while Wales, Ireland and Spain made up the other group.

The winners of each group would have contested a final to be crowned European champions, while the bottom teams would have been relegated to European Championship B.

A total of 16 teams would have competed across the four tiers of European Championship competition.

The postponement of the World Cup for a year will likely have an impact on the next planned staging of the competition, due in 2022.

You can download the full annual report here.

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