“The best players in the world will descend on England” – BLM speaks to Rugby League World Cup CEO
With three years to go until the Rugby League World Cup 2021 kicks off, preparations for the event are well underway.
The tournament will take place in England, and will be the first time that the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions will take place all under the same tournament umbrella.
80% of the games will take place in the sport’s northern heartland, and a partnership with the northern powerhouse has been struck for a £10m legacy programme following the tournament to stimulate participation.
Business Leader recently spoke with Jon Dutton, the CEO of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 about planned legacy of the event, why England was chosen and the event’s partnership with the Northern Powerhouse.
How has the preparation gone so far in the lead up to the World Cup 2021?
The tournament may be three years away, but we are already well underway with our objective of making RLWC2021 in England the best ever. The tournament’s legacy programme is up and running with applications to access the £10m facilities development pot for the grassroots game open. Our International Development Programme’s first two events have taken place in The Netherlands and Papua New Guinea – aiming to spread best practice and share knowledge with Rugby League nations far and wide.
The host city applications are now closed, and we will be announcing the successful venues for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments in January – it will be the first time all three have taken place under the same tournament umbrella. As part of our commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, 80% of the tournament’s games will take place in the game’s northern heartland.
Alongside those operational and legacy pieces, we’re already engaging with key media, stakeholders and supporters making sure they are aware of the tournament’s progress and are a part of the conversation and have established a C-Suite business club of key influencers.
What was the main contributing factor in England being awarded the tournament?
We faced some very stiff competition seeing off a joint bid from the United States and Canada where the game continues to grow at pace.
Our bid was assessed against criteria provided in the bid documentation and the RLIF board stated our bid scored heavily in respect to our supporter base and Government support.
We lobbied to government back in 2015 where we secured £25m of support from them for the event and its legacy, as well as operational support and promotion of the event.
We last held the tournament in 2013 and our vision is to deliver a world class event which transcends the sport bringing new audiences to the game that increases attendance, reach and legacy.
How has the sport grown in England in recent years?
Like all team sports Rugby League has had to work hard to recruit and retain players. Interestingly there are more new girls playing the sport than new boys and the development of a Women’s Super League has been integral to that.
With the government funding we have received, we hope our legacy programme will encourage more people to watch and participate in the sport and I’m confident the landscape for Rugby League, as a sport in England, will be much stronger when we are sat watching the final in 2021.
What does it mean to the sport to have the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions taking place at the same time?
Having all three tournaments happening simultaneously is a huge opportunity for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair game. We want to grow reach, audience profile and highlight the inclusivity of the sport. We want to encourage and inspire people to get involved with all disciplines of Rugby League – not just the men’s game. Giving the women’s and wheelchair tournaments the same platform as the men’s fixtures is the first step towards this.
With 80% of the games taking place in the north, how do you plan on getting the whole nation excited for the event?
This is a global event, never mind national, the RLWC has taken some time to evolve into a developed tournament since it was first played for in 1954. With fans travelling from across the world over to witness world-class Rugby League that will be broadcast live on the BBC, I have no doubt the entire country will get behind the tournament and the England team.
With our plans and ambitions to be digitally connected, all corners of the globe and the country will have unprecedented access to the sport – driving excitement, endorsement and intrigue.
Can you explain your partnership with the Northern Powerhouse?
We’re proud to be a Northern Powerhouse partner via the Cabinet Office. The majority of the RLWC2021 games will take place in the North, the buy-in of businesses, organisations, governing bodies and stakeholders within the Northern Powerhouse is very important to us – the game was born in the North of England and we’re proud of our roots.
The partnership aims to have a positive impact on the North and we want the tournament to have a social impact and contribute to the civic pride the North is famous for.
What will the £10m legacy payment mean to the sport in England?
We’ve already seen what this type of funding can do in the sport via Sport England. We recently visited Leigh Miners Rangers Rugby League Club, in Greater Manchester. The club has been transformed by its Sport England funding, it now has teams for all ages across the men’s, women’s, boy’s and girl’s game with fantastic engagement – there’s some fantastic Rugby League being played there.
The £10m legacy fund will help other clubs like Leigh Miners Rangers create welcoming environments, encouraging more players, building community engagement and cultivating further investment resulting in an innovation fund for the community game.
The funding will be split into large transformational community projects, for example refurbishing changing rooms and installing new artificial pitches. The remainder of the funding will be used for smaller-scale initiatives such as supplying new kit or equipment to clubs.
What can the world expect when the tournament kicks off?
Put simply, the best players in the world will descend on England and will no doubt put on a fantastic show – hopefully more people will fall in love with the game during RLWC2021.
We’re working to make every element of the tournament truly world class. From host cities, logistics and planning, through to ticketing and events, attention-to-detail and learning from previous sporting tournaments as well as setting our own trends is crucial to creating a truly unforgettable spectacle.