I took over as Chair of the RFL, at a time of great excitement, with Rugby League World Cup 2021 in England on the horizon. Now, it is just months away, and, with the Government having published a roadmap that allows us to envisage a return to spectators in stadiums, we can look ahead to what the  Rugby League World Cup 2021 will do for the country, and especially the North of England when it starts in October 2021.

Rugby League’s Heritage 

Rugby League is 125 years old. It was forged out of England’s industrial heritage, created to professionalise the players and free them from the patrician and amateur nature of Rugby Union.

The first Clubs were rooted in the Northern industrial towns of the Victorian era.

But far from being trapped in the sepia tones of the past though, Rugby League has always innovated and adapted so that now it is one of the fastest, most exciting, most skilful of sports and one of the most diverse.

Although Rugby League delights fans nationwide, in the North, it is more than a sport. It’s a passion and a way of life. It’s a powerful force for good in communities from Leigh to Workington, from Leeds to Warrington.

Rugby League’s Social and Economic Impact

Our audience breaks down 60% men and a massive 40% are women. 

Rugby League is one of the Top Five Sports in this country based on cumulative ticket sales and broadcast figures. Its economic impact is estimated at £141M across our professional clubs, foundations and community clubs.

More importantly, our social impact is estimated at £185M. We reach the hard to reach communities disproportionately and in this way, Rugby League can uniquely improve health, reduce crime, provide education, life satisfaction and volunteering.

  • 46% of players are from the lowest socio economic groups
  • 42% of our players are in the lowest quartile for education.

We reach those that society is leaving behind. Crucially, we are embedded in the communities of the North that are so central to this Government’s “levelling up” agenda.

Inclusion and Diversity at the Heart of the Sport

And we are diverse. We are the only  leading sport in the UK that has developed Women’s, Wheelchair, Physical Disability and Learning Disability formats of the game, all played under the badges of their professional Clubs and with England representative teams.

In fact, the Rugby League World Cup 2021 will be the first tournament of a major sport that will simultaneously hold, in the same country, at the same time, Men’s, Women’s, Wheelchair and Physical Disability World Cups.

A Proud and Self-Confident Sport

The Rugby League World Cup 2021 in October and November will be the nation’s first major sport event after the pandemic. The eyes of the sporting world will be on Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, St Helens, Hull, Leigh, Bolton, York, Huddersfield, Doncaster and Middlesbrough.  On the North of England. On the most diverse tournament there has ever been in any sport. Taking place in a part of the country that other sports leave behind when they invite the world. How many major events hosted by other sports are so focussed on this region? How many other tournaments can boast of Finals being played in Warrington, Liverpool and Manchester?

As I said earlier, there will be four World Cups played simultaneously next year, three of which are marketed and ticketed together. The Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair tournaments are all part of the same sales process, the same story, the same positive narrative. And the Physical Disability World Cup will sit alongside them.

Uniquely, the Rugby League World Cup 2021 Final will be a Double Header, with first the Women’s RLWC Final and then the Men’s RLWC Final, both being played out at Old Trafford in Manchester.

Already the public is proving that there is a thirst for top quality sport and to be there to witness it in person. The first ballot for the Rugby League family and then the public ballot has exceeded our expectations and shown that this is an event nobody wants to miss.

They will find a tournament full of intriguing stories. England men will play Greece, where for political reasons, Rugby League is banned. You can watch Papua New Guinea where Rugby League is the National sport. Jamaica will compete in a tournament for the first time.

In the Women’s competition, Brazil and USA will compete in the 13 a-side code for the first time.

With a focus on Mental Health and providing funds for the development of community facilities, the 2021 Rugby League World Cup will transform a region and lift a nation.

As you know, it is my job as Chair to be evangelical about my sport.

But I am convinced that the Rugby League World Cup 2021 will generate pride in the UK and our communities and cement our belief in the power of sport to improve people’s lives in every way imaginable.