By in Governance, Marketing, Rugby

Wednesday 29th November 2017

The current growth strategies of international Rugby League have been called into question by the formation of a rival, fledgling global federation dedicated to promoting debate about the future of the 13-a-side code.

Whilst the 14 nation Rugby League World Cup approaches its finale, the breakaway World Rugby League, founded in 2016 by representatives of the sport from Greece, Italy and Pakistan as well as several ‘observer’ nations, recently presented its credentials to the Switzerland-based Sport Accord organization attached to the GAISF (Global Association of International Sport Federations).

Recently appointed WRL President and head of Rugby League in Greece Tasos Pantazidis commented: “The globalization of Rugby League, has always been one of the most crucial institutional issues about our great sport and it comes into sharp focus during a World Cup.

“New and emerging nations taking up the sport are increasingly calling for serious steps forward in the recognition of Rugby League from International Organizations like SportAccord and the International Olympic Committee. The WRL is a platform for that debate.

“A growing number of national Rugby League governing bodies, fully recognised by their own individual national sporting authorities, have opted to align themselves with the WRL due to our approach to the development and growth of the sport.

“We were invited by SportAccord for talks about the recognition procedure and the feedback so far has been outstanding. Unfortunately no such dialogue is taking place with the established international Rugby League body (IRL) and this will affect the integrity of our sport going forward,” added Tasos, one of three key players on the WRL board together with Secretary General Pierluigi Gentile from Italy and Vice President Ikram Butt, the first Muslim to play international Rugby League for England as well as being a Pakistan rugby union international.

Tasos went on: “Rugby League deserves to be recognized and a new vision about the future of the sport is now clear.

“The first key factor is the rivalry issue. We believe Rugby League representatives have to find common ground with rugby union. We fully understand the controversial nature of this strategy but it makes complete sense on so many levels. It is the ‘elephant in the room’ that stands in the way of real growth and development of Rugby League.

“We cannot turn back the clock to the 1890s. We must deal with the current context and many of our sport’s governing bodies are finding barriers in their way due to existing cultural allegiances adopted by our established international governing body.

“The second big issue is that we need to understand that the current approach of putting some names and flags on the map is not the way forward. This is a short sighted and shallow platform for growth that is alienating many within our sport.

“SportAccord and the GAISF calls for national governing bodies (NGBs) to be recognized by their own national Olympic Committees.

“There are numerous cases where groups of people claim that they have Federations or Associations but in practice, they are not recognized by anyone.

“In these cases people have to understand that recognition by the National Highest Sporting Authorities is the most important issue.  In order to be recognized Rugby League must have 40 recognized NGBs and we all know that it hasn’t,” added Tasos.

Ikram Butt, founder of the British Asian Rugby Association (BARA) and a founding member of Pakistan Rugby League commented: “This is all about laying the foundations for the growth of international Rugby League by building sustainable partnerships that facilitate increased participation.

“The WRL is categorically not about wrestling away sovereignty of the game but doing what is in its best interests based on the growing number of national associations who are finding that the current approach is simply not fit for purpose.

“The World Cup showcases the very best that the game has to offer but I want to see it develop and grow on a much more stable footing.

“A recent match held at the world famous Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad between Pakistan and Italy attracted over 5,000 and demonstrated the bridges that can be built. I’ve always been about building bridges,” added Ikram who is working on a rematch as well as planning for a ‘rebel’ World Cup 9s involving WRL member and observer nations.

Tasos summed up “In conclusion the WRL realize that co-operation and the strengthening of the domestic game are the most important factors in the future of our sport.

“We must follow the examples set by the most popular sports internationally and copy their practices of equality, fairness, justice and expansion. Rugby League cannot be allowed to exist in sporting isolation, cut off from valuable resources and organisations.

“We need the debate to happen with all parties and believe the WRL is a good vehicle to achieve that.”