Welcome to a new Challenge Cup sponsor

The following article is a slightly modified version of the UpFront column in this week’s League Express.

In its edition dated 5th January League Express broke the news of a new Challenge Cup sponsor.

As has since been made clear, Ladbrokes will back the competition under a contract for the next three years, and we are delighted to welcome the company on board.

Some people, of course, are opposed to gambling in all its guises, and those people won’t be too pleased to see a company in that particular economic sector coming on board with Rugby League.

We would always respect those views, and yet there can be little doubt that betting in its various forms is a great source of pleasure for many people, and it is only a small minority of people who suffer from a gambling addiction, in the same way that a small minority of people are pre-disposed to suffer from alcoholism.

The important thing from the point of view of Rugby League is that Ladbrokes are likely to get behind the competition and help promote it to its maximum potential.

That was seen last Thursday, when the first round draw was held at Wembley Stadium, and the company’s chief executive Richard Glynn led a large number of his colleagues to announce the sponsorship and witness the draw, which was carried out in the dressing room occupied last year by Cup winners Leeds Rhinos, by Rugby League legends Martin Offiah and Brian Noble.

It was an impressive way to launch this season’s Challenge Cup, and it sets the bar high for the draw for subsequent rounds of the competition.

The RFL has thought long and hard about the format of this year’s tournament, and the times at which clubs from each tier should enter it, and we believe they have done an excellent job which, we hope, will go some way to reviving the standing of the world’s oldest rugby tournament of either code.

One innovation this year is a Friday night semi-final, which will be played on 31 July and broadcast by the BBC.

That will open up the Challenge Cup to a potentially new audience, and again the RFL should be applauded rather than criticised for such a move.

Friday night matches have worked well for international rugby union, and we see no reason why they shouldn’t for the Challenge Cup, with the added advantage that Friday nights are already an established time for watching televised Rugby League.

Things do seem to be moving in the right direction.