Rugby League’s Cult of Toughness

30 Nov 18, 12:00AM 0 Comments

Written by Zack Wilson

Rugby league is rightly known as possibly the most physically challenging team sport on the planet.

Its collisions, aggression, impacts and intensity make it a thrilling spectacle for spectators.

The problem in recent years is that there have not been anywhere near enough of those spectators, at least in Britain.

The pool of fans seems to be growing ever smaller, and we clearly need to look harder at the way we promote the game to new fans.

We need new perspectives, and it might be wise to seek to highlight other aspects of the game rather than simple physical aggression.

Speed, technique, skill and even some creative sledging are all aspects of our game which can be highlighted too.

Emphasising these elements of the sport may serve to open it up to new people who might be a little sceptical or ambivalent about the constant message of physical toughness above all else.

There is also a knock-on effect when it comes to participation. Many people who would like to give the game a go are downright intimidated by how physically demanding it is.

That’s fine for the elite athletes, but grassroots sport needs to be accessible by as many people as possible if it wants to grow.

Constantly highlighting the physical combativeness of the game might actually dissuade more people than it attracts.

EuroTag rugby league exists to provide a bridge between touch and full contact, but it is not, as yet, widely known.

But it is when it comes to promoting and marketing the game that the issue is really up for discussion.

Sure, the toughness of the players and the physicality of the game is definitely one of its selling points. It’s part of our heritage and DNA. It will always be there.

Perhaps we should instead be highlighting everything that is built on top of that foundation of physical toughness, rather than simply the ability to deal out and withstand pain.

Another thing we should sell, particularly in the UK, is the depth of community commitment to clubs.

As society becomes ever more divided, fractured and atomised, the way that communities have often kept clubs alive is inspiring.

That is something we should be highlighting when we try and market our sport.

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