The Rugby World Cup 2013 drew to a close on Saturday afternoon as Australia beat New Zealand 34-2 in front of a record-breaking 74,468 crowd inside Old Trafford. Whilst the tournament has seen some entertaining, exciting and nail-biting matches, the lack of coverage on the BBC, Sky and through mainstream journalism has resulted in the whole tournament missing out on a fantastic opportunity to showcase to the nation what a brilliant sport Rugby League is.
Firstly, the positives. If you have been following the World Cup, you will agree that it has been the most successful and entertaining Rugby League World Cup there has been. The nail-biting semi-final encounter between England and New Zealand, the surprise package that was the USA team and record-breaking attendances across the country, even in areas which are not recognised as Rugby League hotspots.
This, however, makes the lack of press coverage all the more disappointing. The number one purpose of this World Cup was not to determine who the best Rugby League nation in the world is. Deep down we all anticipated an Australia-New Zealand final. The real purpose of the World Cup was to provide a platform to attract new fans and audiences to the game, and to hopefully introduce a new nationwide interest in the sport which the RFL has been trying to do for so long.
The implementation of this was nearly pulled off. There were 8 sell-out matches, 35% of ticket sales came from non-Rugby League areas and viewing figures for England games on the BBC peaked at more than 2 million viewers. It is such a shame therefore that this wasn’t furthered.
The BBC only showed 7 of the 28 matches (all of which were England games apart from the final and the group stage encounter between Wales and Italy). Sky, the leaders in the broadcast industry when it comes to Rugby League, did not bid to show coverage of the games. Lucky viewers with a broadband package that comes with Premier Sports were treated to coverage of all the games, and those without had to suffer watching broken, illegal streams of matches online. With regards to the press coverage, we went from 3 pages worth of World Cup build up before the tournament started, to a few words in an article that could easily be missed towards the back of the newspapers. The Sports News teams briefly mentioned the outcomes of some matches, but this was always trumped by reports of England’s Rugby Union autumn internationals.
I can’t deny that Rugby League is a small sport. We can’t expect for a World Cup to suddenly radicalise the nation’s attitude towards the smaller code. However, a bit more encouragement from the organisers in targeting the media to take note could have perhaps increased the coverage, which would in turn have increased people’s interest in the tournament. The BBC could have definitely shown more games, particularly by showing all Quarter and Semi final matches.
Compare the coverage of this World Cup to the one we will see for the Rugby Union tournament in 2015. And when the Football World Cup is on next Summer it will be near impossible to believe that other sports actually exist.
The 2013 Rugby League World Cup was the most successful yet. It’s just a shame that more people were not given the opportunity to realise that.