Page XIII editorial, first published 3rd Aug 2012 in Rugby League World, Issue 377 (Sept 2012)
How do you follow that? It was the question the organisers of the London 2012 Olympic Games were left to wrestle with for four years since the extravaganza in Beijing which at the time seemed impossible to match in terms of cost or scale. Yet on Friday July 27 2012, the world watched as London put on a spectacular of its own on a fraction of the Chinese budget which left jaws dropping around the globe at its audacity, inventiveness and humour and left many critics eating their words.
A few folk in Rugby League have grumbled that London’s ceremony included brief video clips of the home nations rugby union teams in action, but to focus on that is to miss the bigger picture of what we can learn from what happened that night. It also overlooks that the very first act of the opening ceremony was performed by an avowed Rugby League fan, Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins!
For me, the overwhelming message from London 2012 is ‘don’t be afraid to be different’.
Sometimes in Rugby League we spend far too much time obsessing about what is happening in other sports (well one other sport in particular) and view any success that may achieve as a detriment to our own. It doesn’t have to be like that. Just as London 2012 didn’t attempt to copy Beijing, because they knew they couldn’t, nor fear the comparison because they knew they had something quite different but equally wonderful to present to the world, Rugby League needs to be confident enough of its own strengths and virtues and, as Jon Wilkin urges elsewhere this issue, to stop pitching itself in the gutter.
Our sport has its problems, for sure, and we need to tackle them. The as yet still unresolved financial drama which threatens the existence of Bradford Bulls hangs over us like the seemingly immovable rainclouds of this long, wet British summer. The recently released Watkins Report presents a frank assessment of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the governance of the sport and acknowledges that contentious issues including the size and structure of the leagues, licensing and promotion/relegation, sustainability of clubs and the approach to expansion need to be resolved.
But we also need to remember what is special about Rugby League, what drew us all to it in the first place and what keeps us coming back for more. That’s the face of our sport we need to be able to transmit.
The Challenge Cup final at Wembley, which was name-checked during the commentary of the Olympic opening ceremony during a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Abide With Me’, is on the horizon and will provide us with plenty of moments to savour.
On a smaller scale but no less thrilling, we have just been treated to yet another outstanding Northern Rail Cup final. Congratulations are most certainly due to its deserving winners, Halifax, but it was a wonderful advert for Rugby League and a credit to both teams who took part.
The race for the play-offs in Super League is also gathering momentum and on top of all that, next year Rugby League will take centre stage as the 2013 World Cup kicks off in the United Kingdom.
Getting that tournament right is an enormous yet exciting challenge. The budget will be tiny, but the scale of what could be achieved is huge. The signs so far are encouraging, with venues and fixtures now confirmed and tickets due to go on sale a whole year in advance.
It won’t and never could be as big or as spectacular as the Olympic Games. But like Danny Boyle’s London 2012 triumph, it can be unique, and special and something to be proud of for us all, if we focus on all that is good about our sport, don’t even try to copy others and just do our own thing because whatever its problems, when Rugby League is at its best, there’s nothing quite like it.