All systems go in a World Cup year

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 4th Jan 2021

We’ve been saying for a long time that 2021 will be a crucial year for Rugby League in the United Kingdom and, indeed, for the rest of the world.

England will host a World Cup tournament this year that could be seen as a make-or-break competition for the future of the game.

England will kick off the tournament against Samoa at St James’ Park in Newcastle on 23 October and if the national side can go on to win the tournament it would give a massive boost to the game in these islands, while it would also be good to see the other home nations, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, making progress too.

Then there is France, a country that is long overdue a revival in international Rugby League.

The Rugby League World Cup team has done a good job so far in promoting the competition, which includes TV advertising over the festive period. There was even an advert for the World Cup in the interval of the edition of Coronation Street that was broadcast on Boxing Day.

And yet the size of the task facing the organisers was revealed on Sunday, when the Sunday Times newspaper ran a feature in its sports section about ten must-see sporting days in 2021 without mentioning the Rugby League World Cup.

The article drew the ire of RFL Chairman Simon Johnson on Twitter, but unfortunately it did reveal the status of our sport in the eyes of many sports editors at national newspapers.

Of course some people suggest that these days national newspapers don’t matter as much as they used to, and what matters now is social media and digital technology.

Unfortunately, what that argument ignores is that social and digital media are useful for talking to the supporters you already have, but are much less effective in attracting new supporters to the game.

The best way to do that is still to get exposure on national media platforms, which is presumably why the World Cup organisers are advertising on terrestrial television.

We hope that by the end of this year, the vast majority of sports fans in the country will be talking about a great tournament that had sellout crowds.

If they are, then Rugby League will really have arrived.

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