Talking Rugby League: Who would have imagined the French Prime Minister announcing a World Cup?

What an interesting week it’s been for Rugby League!

Who would ever have imagined that we would see the Prime Minister of France leading a press conference to announce that a Rugby League World Cup would be played in his country?

But it happened!

And M Jean Castex didn’t just speak about the World Cup, but he sounded enthusiastic about its coming to France.

And what his speech revealed was that Luc Lacoste, the French Rugby League President, and his colleagues had been very smart with the way they pitched the tournament to the French government.

The Rugby Union World Cup will be held in France in 2023, with matches to be played at just nine venues, which will be Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes, Nice and St Etienne.

The following year, the Olympic Games will be held in Paris, with very few events not being held in the French capital.

So by suggesting that they would hold a World Cup that would include all the medium-sized cities and towns in France – up to 40 in total, as you will see on the back page of this issue of League Express – they hit a nerve with the government.

Most of those towns and cities will have watched the sporting action over the previous two years and they won’t necessarily have felt involved in what was happening.

But the Rugby League World Cup will be coming to somewhere near where most French people live and I’m sure the French government will have seen the merit of involving the community throughout France, rather than just a few favoured cities.

In my view last week’s press conference was one of the most important press conferences in the history of Rugby League.

As M Castex said: “It is the government’s role to give support to the most under-privileged people and the most under-privileged areas. Sport does a lot for social cohesion.

“Government does have a role to play in the development of sports.

“We have to work together for those places that have been overlooked.

“Government support extends to hosting major events in France.

“When we look at the project for such events, we try to ensure that the whole country will benefit, not just the historic homelands of the sports in question. You want to draw new people to your sport.

“In this respect the Rugby League World Cup will bring together four competitions – men, women, wheelchair and youth. 128 games will be played across France in that context.

“We also have to remember the commitment of the organisers, who have made sure that the pricing is accessible so that local people in the towns and cities where games will be played can access these games.

“So, dear friends, dear Rugby League fans, we must hope that new vocations will emerge, that it will draw new people to your sport, that they will feel more motivated.

“And since we will be playing at home, I hope we can be as good as possible. Organising major sporting events in France must be a source of national pride.

“You can see what sort of mission we have prescribed for you. I know you will take this mission very seriously.

“I would call on all the local authorities to work together with the organisers for this event. They will all benefit from it; the tourist attraction will increase. Under the auspices of the ministerial delegate the government is focusing on the social legacy of such major events.

“For example, training and education for sports and events management, supporting apprenticeships, and social provisions in the tenders you will be organising. This must be a way to generate inclusiveness.

“For the Olympics, we have required that people who are distanced from the labour market should be helped. It chimes in nicely with the basic principles of sport.

“We will support you, but the Federation has to do what it can do.

“It is quite a challenge, you will have to stick to your targets and budgets, win as many competitions as possible.

“This is a tremendous journey you are starting today.

“But much more is at stake than sport – social and societal issues.

“I know Rugby League players; how determined and combative they can be. It’s a great challenge, but I am sure you will be able to take it up for the sake of your sport and for the sake of France.”

I’m sure we can all say “amen” to that.

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