How France can make a success of the Rugby League World Cup in 2025

Rugby League World’s Treiziste Diarist Pierre Carcau considers the benefits and addresses some of the concerns relating to the news that France is bidding to host the Rugby League World Cup in 2025.

As Rugby League expansionists will already know, France has applied to become the host nation for the next Rugby League World Cup tournament scheduled to take place in 2025. A press conference was held on July 8th by FFR XIII President Luc Lacoste and an interesting 16 page press kit was released (only in French so far) to explain how France will succeed in making of this event a success.

France are the sole bidders for the honour at present and a final decision is expected to be made by the International Federation, likely in November 2021.

So far, even if it had become an open secret, enthusiasm has reached Rugby League fans all around the world, some of them even borrowing a phrase from a popular England football song, “It’s coming home”. This was also adopted by the French Rugby League Federation itself, including “Retour au Pays pour le trophée” in their promotional document.

However, some observers have expressed concerns and not just the usual pessimism or self-flagellation that goes with every big international move made in the game.

This article is dedicated to them, all in the hopes of reassuring them about the ability of France to organise such an event.

First of all, French Rugby League has changed a lot since the last time they hosted the World Cup in 1972.

All right we still have that special taste for our “Président” and our “Gouvernement”, and saying that our government takes a certain part in our life is an understatement. But new actors have appeared in the meantime.

That it is to say the local governments: Régions, départements, Métropoles. Some of them already support Rugby League in France (by issuing them grants, Occitanie being the biggest supporter). A galaxy of economic partners.

And this world cup would be a tremendous opportunity for them in terms of communications. For instance, Occitanie, New Aquitaine, Rhône-Alpes are turning their sights to Europe and the world. And as, ahem sorry to mention this, France is still member of the European Union, EU can provide subsidies to the Régions directly. So, my point is that don’t focus too much on some slight details. For example, if Président Macron hasn’t met yet the Président of the International Federation? Or if the French government based in Paris have not given money directly to sustain the competition.

In France, today’s landscape is much more complex than that. The French state will never be far from supporting the project, even if it’s not so visible. The French Fédération has indeed announced the support of a bureaucratic but vital institution for any competition in France, the Délégation interministérielle aux grands événements sportifs. It’s just the same as for the 2023 Union World Cup or the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris! Do you think they are qualified enough?

Secondly, will the world cup be successful only if we earn a lot of money with it?

Ask the organisers of the first Rugby Union World Cup in 1987. At the beginning, their organisation was quite modest, the press even working in a big tent. Do you know what was their budget? £3.3 million for a profit of just £1 million! Did they take refuge in Oxford or Cambridge and stop any expansion? Not at all, their competition is now successful. The second most watched after the FIFA World Cup. The 1987 Cup was a definitive moment for the union code. A key moment.

Actually, a World Cup is not a mere extension of an existing domestic competition but a long-term investment in terms of communication, image, and attraction of public attention. But I’m not an economist, you’re of course free not to believe me. Nevertheless, you may like to know that the organising committee is backed by two experienced executives in connection with business; Michel Weiner (from la Poste, you know that “small” French company ) and Soizic Le Bourg (ticketing) who just worked for an even “smaller” attraction centre called le Futuroscope in Poitiers (look it up on the internet) and some others.

I almost forgot to tell you that Robert Zarander will be in charge of the communication aspect of the candidature; then again he was “just” a political adviser of former Président Hollande during his successful election campaign in 2012. Definitively the people to talk with if you’re afraid that a Tonga-Samoa game won’t attract enough people in a stadium or won’t generate enough money. And I’m sure they will have some ideas how to stage the games required for the competition and no problem to find where. Especially in a country like France that is used to welcoming tourists and is connoisseur enough to appreciate the talents of Southern Hemisphere players (whatever the code they play) and is also used to staging even bigger events (the facilities and accommodation for those previous events will be still there).

Talking about the games and the venues be ready…to be surprised.

Of course, even though nothing was announced at this stage of the candidacy, we all expect Perpignan, Avignon, Toulouse to be chosen as venues. And secretly we may be tempted to calculate if the stadia will be filled enough, especially with the nations who will play far from their home land.

In that matter, it seems that the field is wide open as the French Federation will launch a specific call for interest from potential host stadia. Even cities who are not in the heartlands of Rugby League will be able to apply with some already suggesting a city like Rennes (located in French Britanny).

Of course, Rugby League strongholds will certainly apply but what is interesting is to bring Rugby League to areas where people are not prejudiced about the game. Let me remind you that the France-Wales 2012 game held in Lens (North of France, a Football Association stronghold; an oval ball is an UFO there) reached an attendance of 11,628. So let’s wait to know the cities and the venues before making any calculation. France has a large range of stadia to offer.

Finally, it will be the role of the committee in charge of the bid to convince the International Rugby League Federation that France is definitively the right country to host the World Cup and also the place to make of this event the big international break we have been desperately waiting for decades.

Meanwhile, more modestly, I hope that my words will start persuading the most pessimistic ones among us that yes, France can host this tournament on their own and will benefit from the experience of the forthcoming 2021 World Cup in England, in terms of ticketing and inclusion.