First published in Rugby League World Issue 364.
It’s possible that QuinsRL may be gone from Super League next year, even if they win a licence in the next round of franchising. The club are reported to be considering a name change, with a switch back to London Broncos a distinct possibility.
I’d welcome that.
Although I was born and raised in Bradford, I saw my first live game of Rugby League at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, so I’ve a lot to thank them for. I’ve maintained an affinity with the club in its many guises ever since, even though I live and work in rock solid Rugby League territory in the north of England. I admire the dogged resilience of those involved who have kept the club alive when it would have been easier to give up, and I respect the RFL’s efforts to keep a professional top-flight presence in the capital in the face of often overwhelming criticism.
But that name, it just hasn’t done them any favours and I would not mourn its passing.
The Quins brand is too closely associated with rugby union for there to be any cross-over benefits for Rugby League. The latter’s identity has been almost lost.
However, a change of name alone will not be enough to lift the club from the doldrums into the hearts and minds of the local population. What counts as local in London? Imagine one Super League club in the whole of Yorkshire and expecting all supporters of Leeds, Bradford, Castleford, Wakefield and Huddersfield, let alone Hull FC and Hull KR to regard it as their local club. Such is the problem of scale in London. Geographically, it’s massive. It’s unrealistic to expect a single club to capture the attention of people in one of the world’s biggest cities who don’t already have an affinity with Rugby League. They need a bit of help.
This time next year, the London Olympics will be upon us. Rugby League won’t be part of it. But it could be. A bit of creative thinking is what’s required.
Rugby League is good at hiding its light under a bushel. Look at the way the current Nines festival is being buried away on Tuesday nights for the amusement of a few diehards, when the simple accessibility of this modified version of the game could be a fantastic means of hooking new people into the sport.
So, we have a Super League club in London struggling to establish its identity and we have a Nines tournament in the north passing unawares. Why not combine the two? Move the Nines to London and play it during the month the Olympic and Paralympic Games are taking place. It would need an added twist: instead of a club based tournament turn it into a European event and invite the burgeoning membership of the RLEF to take part. It’s harsh but true that sports fans flocking to London for the Olympics are unlikely to be swayed by the prospect of Bradford v Featherstone playing Nines at The Stoop as an alternative entertainment on the days they aren’t watching handball, beach volleyball or Greco-Roman wrestling: the fact that all these otherwise ‘minority interest’ sports events will be packed out proves one thing; if the branding is right and there’s an international element you can sell pretty much any kind of sport to the public.
A Rugby League Nines festival featuring the likes of Serbia, Russia, Germany, Holland, Czech Republic and others alongside England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France should prove a much more tempting prospect to casual sports fans. In the absence of Australia and New Zealand, we could give the Exiles another run out and polish their brand recognition into the bargain. If each Super League club affiliated itself to one of the smaller European nations to help them with accommodation and travel, perhaps even field some of their own players to boost the quality of the product on display too, it could have unimaginable long-term benefits for the game in many of our developing nations at the same time as providing London’s Super League club with an opportunity to exploit its status and raise its profile as hosts.
Sky do not have the rights to broadcast the Olympics so an alternative international event that seeks to complement rather than rival the 2012 Games could be of interest to them too.
It would take some organising and it wouldn’t be easy, but it would be more worthwhile than spending next summer moaning about our sport being completely eclipsed by the Olympic jamboree. If it provided a stepping stone towards the establishment of a Rugby League World Nines tournament, so much the better. Carpe Diem?