Written by Zack Wilson
The fixtures for the 2020 European Championships were confirmed last week, and there are some interesting clashes coming up in the autumn in the northern hemisphere.
The competition’s top tier has been expanded to six teams, split into two groups of three, with the winners of each group meeting in the final.
France have been grouped with Scotland and Italy, while Ireland, Spain and Wales make up the other group.
There are also fixtures in the B tier, where Serbia tangle with Greece and Russia, and the C tier, where Norway, Germany and Ukraine will be meeting. The Netherlands and Turkey will be competing in the D tier.
Sadly, we are yet to have the venues and kick off times confirmed, which doesn’t look especially professional, especially when it comes to the competition’s top level events.
We know that the final will be in France, but not exactly where. This trait of rugby league’s to leave the planning of venues so late is becoming wearing, especially for those of us who are desperate to see the sport become properly international.
There are reports that there will be an English presence in the competition in future years, with perhaps a Knights or development team playing in it.
That would certainly help to boost the profile of the competition, which could use a TV deal and more promotion generally.
Tiny crowds and a general lack of interest in many of the countries playing in the competition make it hard to raise the profile.
The contrast with the way other sports run international competitions is sharp.
There is a real danger at the moment that the international development we are seeing in the southern hemisphere is not being matched in Europe.
There has been no mass exodus of English-born players with Scottish heritage to the Bravehearts, for example, as there has been in New Zealand and Australia with players of Tongan heritage going ‘home’.
Although given the situation with the domestic governing body in Tonga right now, development in the Pacific looks dangerously like being built on foundations of sand.
Marc Palanques, president of French Federation Rugby XIII, said: “As current European Champions at senior and U19 level, we view this is a very important, high profile competition, a vital highlight of the sport in the northern hemisphere.”
Palanques is right that the competition is a vital highlight. But it needs to be treated as such.
If the stories are true about investment coming into the northern hemisphere from capital investment companies, then some of those funds need to be earmarked for development.
If Super League is to be a more attractive product in future, it needs players from all over Europe playing in it.
Anything that can increase the geographical spread of the game should be seriously considered.
The European Championship needs TV coverage, properly professional venues and media respect for it to thrive.
All of those things, of course, require money. And that is the key when it comes to this competition.
The European Championship should be a flagship rugby league tournament. Whether it ever will be is another question entirely.