League & targeting the Olympics
Paul Broughton OAM
In 1996, in the middle of the ARL v Super League war, Super League Administration conducted a modified game with nine players, instead of the international thirteen. The motive of whether it was to counter the World Rugby Sevens, or because of the overall availability of players is unclear. NZ defeated PNG in Fiji in 1996, and in 1997 in Townsville the series was played again with New Zealand defeating Western Samoa in the final. I signed Marcus Bai from the PNG team to the then Chargers from that event. In 2014 the Auckland Nines was conducted in Auckland with the 16 NRL clubs. Since that time the NRL has now conducted the World Cup Nines utilising NRL players.
The important new move is the establishment of the World Nines- playing for the Confederation Cup, a significant initiative of the Sport Strategic Group bringing new markets and new powerhouse nations into rugby league, and it is a sanctioned event by the IRL. Nines format is evolving with creation of a wonderful history.
The World Nines- playing for the Confederation Cup event starting from 2020 is the introduction of an innovative structure, whose rule stipulates that all NRL and Super League players, past and present, are ineligible to participate. This was initiated to ensure that by giving major recognition to an evolving tier in addition to the fully professional NRL game, new nations and a truly world -wide talent pool of men and women will regenerate and grow rugby league in an unprecedented way.
In addition, Sport Strategic Group has a charter through the preparation and delivery of its World Nines event to upskill administrators, media, operational people and officials. This developmental strategy will allow a ‘closing of the gap’ between the elite and new Participants, and expanded commercial markets. It also will encourage smaller nations to conduct nines format competitions, given they may not able to justify the 13 international game’s laws, but are able to conduct the modified nines format.
An Olympic Games target by 2032
There is an opportunity to position Rugby League nines for inclusion in the Olympic Games by 2032 by leveraging the participation strategy that has been created by the World Nines-playing for the Confederation Cup from 2020.
The Olympic Games Charter indicates that in order to be accepted, a sport must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents, and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents, and some other requirements that can be achieved, especially since the growth of womens participation.
The challenge is to target the sport of Rugby League utilising a nines format to be accepted as an Olympic sport at the (Queensland?) Olympic Games. This will require that in the leadup period to 2032, rugby league in the nines format must meet the Charter requirements. World Nines-playing for the Confederation Cup can significantly contribute to this eligibility attainment in an unprecedented way, as it is recognised as a sanctioned event and bringing into competition new powerhouse nations.
Indeed, the Olympic Games target is not one that can be achieved in isolation by the various rugby league administrations, be they the IRL, NRL or Super League, as competition structures and participation are consistently dominated by a limited pool of nations that do not meet Olympic Games Charter eligibility rules. It is the plethora of new powerhouse and small nations, through participation in World Nines starting from 2020, that is a vital contribution to aspiring to Olympic Game status.
World Nines – playing for the Confederation Cup from 2020, will encourage smaller nations or those that are not traditionally rugby league driven- particularly those in the Asia Pacific region, to conduct nines format competitions. Whilst their teams may not be strong financially or in player numbers, they will still be able to compete in an ‘Other Nationalities’ team. This means World Nines- playing for the Confederation Cup can have the nations recognised as individually competing nations, thus contributing to the 75 and 40 Olympic Games eligibility preparation.
Rugby League nines is played in villages, towns, cities ,states, nations at every level from the elite NRL level through to learners and kids playing in the park. It is a game that retains its integrity as it has not moved away from its rules of 1908.
We have an opportunity. A plan of action to advance Rugby League nines with a shared purpose by all participants for inclusion in the Olympic Games by 2032 is on.