By STEVE MASCORD
THE Australian Rugby League Commission has today cut a deal that, in terms of participants, is far more significant than even a reunification of the rugby codes would be.
The ARLC and NRL has formed a “partnership” with Touch Football Australia, which has suddenly taken the number of participants in rugby league in this country to well over over one million.
You read that right: one million players. The NRL claims 844,000 people play the game already, although this includes schools programmes that involve one-off carnivals. The combined sport is now arguably the biggest in Australia – ahead of netball, soccer and Australian Rules.
And the announcement is typical of the administration of CEO and former Welsh banker David Smith. There were no leaks, no whispers that it was happening – just a media conference and an a release..
Touch football (I’m sure you used to call it ‘tig and pass’) is a massive participant sport in Australia, even in states where the AFL is dominant. All those men and women of all ages we see playing at dusk each in cities and towns will now be linked to the NRL.
Together, they will be able to attract more government funding and sponsorship. League players will be directed to touch teams in summer and – more importantly – vice versa. Their officials, offices and infrastructure will now also help recruit and promote full contact rugby league.
It’s a massive development for our game – but there are still recidivists who are complaining that “the commission has turned out game into touch anyway – now they’re making it official”.
The merger with touch football makes us a more inclusive sport. It hopefully allows us to cherry pick the Benji Marshalls and Shaun Johnsons of the future and prevent them playing the other code.
The boss of TFA, Colm Maguire, said: “Touch Football in Australia was born out of Rugby League and the opportunity to create Australia’s largest sporting community aligned with the NRL is as compelling as it is ambitious and fortuitous.”
If this sounds like cheerleading from me, then it comes with no agenda. Your columnist doesn’t cheer for a team, he cheers for rugby league against other sports. And this feels like we’ve won the grand final.
Unfortunately, I am told touch in the UK is linked very closely with rugby union. Having this marriage happen at an RLIF level might be problematic, but it’s worth a try, right?
Announcements like this make it more apparent why the NRL currently needs 140 staff. Trying to integrate two sports like this to maximum benefit won’t be easy. One can only wonder what other projects Smith and his men have in store.
I am glad David Smith doesn’t care what I or any other journalist writes. As long as he keeps coming up with coups like this, I am happy to be completely ignored.
THE way in which Super League is consumed in Australia has just changed enormously.
By STEVE MASCORD