Why Bringing Back Tours is a Bad Idea

By Daniel Andruczyk

Recently there has been a call from some sectors to bring back the old tours from yesteryear. In particular is the Ashes and the idea that by having Great Britain back it will compete better with Australia and New Zealand again. Funny enough this is coming from section of the Australian fans and sporting public, a public that tends to be very un-educated on how much the sport of Rugby League has grown over the years around the world. Let me say this: Tours should not be brought back because they are probably the single most reason why the sport of Rugby League for so long has been stagnant. Its been when the tours were dismantled that international rugby league started to flourish. Any attempt to bring them back will only kill the sport once again and have it as a 3/4 horse race once again. I hope that by the end of this piece I can convince you why I feel this way.

First let me make a comment on the Great Britain Lions. A team like Great Britain, pretty much always has and always will be dominated by English players. There will be the odd Welsh, Scott or Irishman that will get in here and there but they will tend to always claim to be a Englishman anyway. The concept of the Rugby League GB team was always I always found was a flawed one. It was never a true GB team like say in rugby union. Union’s British and Irish lions always chose the best players from the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish national teams and competition. These were always on a par internationally with each other and so always had a level field as to choose from. Thus you always had a good representation of the home nations in that team. The Rugby League Lions have never had this. The Welsh, Scottish and Irish national teams and local comps (which only come into existence very recently) were never serious players. It was always a English national team and competition biased tour. Players. Its only after the fact that now we revel in some of those player to have roots in Wales and other home nations. In reality there has never been any difference between a GB team and an English team in Rugby League.

Tours basically stifle International competition. They create an artificial eliteness in the sport that the teams privy enough to be part of that for the life of them will want to keep. Tours do this damage on several levels and you can still see this in other sports such as Cricket and Rugby Union. There is a definite upper gentry of nations that play above all the other peasant teams, ones that in reality have no hope in hell of ever achieving that level. It would be akin to the old medieval tradition of not marrying beneath yourself.

First and foremost, a tour just takes out way too much time to play only a single nation. A 6-8 week tour one maybe a second country does not allow any other of the up and coming nations to get quality game time with one of the power houses. This is important an important factor. Teams always want to play the best, to be tested, unlike us Rugby League fans who have this draconian fear of blow out scores, one that players in these teams don’t have. It stems from this almost communist like mantra that the NRL and to a smaller extent the ESL have drilled into us that everyone needs to be the same and that scores need to be close. Yes win, but not by that much, we need to make it look good. I say absolute rubbish! You know what have teams set bench marks for other to aspire to, don;t have them get cut down to size just because other aren’t willing to work. For years I tried to make tours work, I was like anyone else, I want a ashes tour , I want this , have three matches here  and there and on the way they can swing by here and there. It could never make it work satisfactorily where all nations had an equal opportunity to test themselves over the years, and not just with their local rivals but to have a good across the board opportunity to play a different variety of nations. I always seemed to have someone like Serbia, or Fiji or the USA missing out on quality game time. It frustrated the hell out of me, unless the domestic season was shortened and we went to a 18 week international season, it just would never work. It dawned on me around 2008/09 that it was all wrong, this was precisely why league had not grown in 100 years, tours help them back. They are good when you have only 4 teams, but when there is now over 30… ehhhhh… just won’t work.

This leads into the second reason. Players. Say what you will, players will always follow their heart and play for the country they love. They also want the best opportunity to play against the best opposition. To most professional players, money does not play a role. They already sit on hefty contracts where earning only 10% extra is a drop in a pond. Quality is what they want. You take away quality, or more precisely if you concentrate it in one point then its like a black hole, it just sucks up all in its path. Tours are this black home. If you have only 3 or 4 nations that always tour, that only play each other, then potential players for all those other nations will always get sucked into it. Its why you see players from the Pacific Islands tending to choose Australia and New Zealand over Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Not because of money, but because that is where the high quality games are. Its a catch 22 situation: Australia wont play the Pac Islands because there not good enough with players, so all the best players from the Pac islands go and play for Australia to get quality games against England and NZ, which means that Australia will not play the Pacific Islands because the quality of players is not good enough etc…. (insert England, New Zealand and Home nations where appropriate). It really is that simple. Tours drain the talent away from nations that otherwise could and would provide great opposition. It means that you would then start to get a greater balance in the power. Look Australia, NZ, England will always be dominant, but to satisfy this draconian need, they would be closer together, matches would not be a sure fire thing for the Aussies or Kiwis to win, England would have series wins and the other nations would spring upsets here and there.

Money is the third reason. So here is a question, you go to work and earn a living. You then get told that you have to give away a significant chunk of YOUR money to someone in a different job? Would you do it? I am sure the majority of us would say no. Its the same in League. The argument is why isn’t the NRL or ESL putting money into the international game? Well its not their job to do that. That money is for the NRL and ESL. They need it to survive themselves. It is the RLIF’s job to do that. Now a tour does exactly the same thing. The money earned on that tour really only belongs to the touring parties. An Ashes tour, the money only belongs to Australia and England etc… Why should Serbia or Fiji or anyone else get their hands on that? My point is that tours, just like talent, pool the money into one point. The sponsorship is for those games and tours and those nations not anything else. So by having a tour amongst a small number of powerful nations will concentrate all the money, wealth and power in those nations, which is exactly the situation we have now.

This then leads to the the fourth point that all of a sudden the RLIF is controlled by a powerful elite. A gang of 3. New Zealand, England and Australia have the controlling steaks in the international game and the biggest problem is that those controlling the international game also have control in their respective national competitions. This is a clear conflict of interest, but one that stems from the days of the tour, its a throwback to the times of old.

So what is the solution then? Simple tournaments. I always say pay credit where credit is due. Soccer in my eyes has the best international set up. Over the 4 year period they have a series of meaningful regional, inter-continental and international tournaments. This is what Rugby League needs. We have such diverse players in our elite competition, we need to be able to showcase the nations they come from. But its important that these tournaments have the best of the best. If you have a Pacific Cup, YOU MUST have Australia and New Zealand involved, similar for Europe and other regions. You need to have all the nations participating. This does several things to solve the issues. Players now must choose a country they want to play for. The knowledge that by playing for Fiji or Tonga they now have the opportunity to play the Kangaroos or Kiwis is a huge thing, play against the best teams in the world, put them to the test. By now having that talent spread, the games will never be a clear hit or miss, it means that those kinds of tournaments will have draw cards. You still can have them in Australia or New Zealand to maximise profits, but now money gets shared amongst teams in those tournaments, the regional federations now can also make money for helping and promoting the game in the regions. Isn’t it better to make $1 m than wast $1 m? The 2009 Pacific Cup in hindsight was a massive waste of time. There was zero follow up and in reality a poorly put together tournaments. It drained $1.5m from the small $5m that we had from the 2008 World Cup.

It also means that rather than relying on one tournaments every 4 years to get the international game going you build momentum right up and through the world cup. Regional tournaments then lead into as transcontinental tournaments, this can be a 4 or 6 nations with a second one in there as well. You have the teams that made the semi finals involved in these. This now means that teams like Fiji and Tonga know that in 2 years they will have played not only Australia and New Zealand but also England, France, and other nations from around the world. They could also get a chance to play the first nations again. You now start getting a true sense of the standing of nations globally. A true ranking (my thought on this for another time). Sponsors now have a greater exposure around the world to. A true international tournament that all of a sudden is being broadcast in 20 countries will have greater appeal than one that is only appealing to two countries. Sponsorship money will become more valuable and players from all the nations should start to get a cut from that, not just in a few countries. Regional governing bodies like the RLEF will start to gain greater profits from the selling of TV right just as the RLIF will as well from their tournaments. The power now will start to rest in those organisation and not in jus ta  couple of national domestic comps and in those in just a few domestic teams!

One last comment, we now have a clear and definite opportunity to do something new and drastic in the RLIF. This year there has been a clean out of sorts of the Rugby league hierarchy domestically and internationally. The old RLIF board of Scott Carter, Richard Lewis, David Gallop, Nicolas Larrat, John Numapo and Andrew ill have had 50% of them leave. There is still a questions over the PNGRFL legitimacy one that potentially will effect Numapo’s appointment. So two thirds of the RLIF by the end of 2012 may not be there. Lets seize this opportunity to finally get a proper board in place, one that will drive the international game, one that will end the speculation of player eligibility and one that is willing to step in and resolve conflicts in nations. The USA, Italy and PNG situation should A. Never have happened and B. Should have been resolved 100% by now. Its unacceptable that this is still happening.

What I say, it’s heresy to some I know, but if we want Rugby League to truly grow around the world we need to truly make it an international sport and give all the nations that play it the incentives to continue. If not then we will just remain a small sport played in one region of a few countries that has just a few fans that know how great it is.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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18 Responses to “Why Bringing Back Tours is a Bad Idea”

  1. Big Picture says:

    A good article overall, but in one respect I see just a little of the ignorance you ascribe to other Aussies. When you say “In reality there has never been any difference between a GB team and an English team in Rugby League” that’s not really correct. Back in the day that those calling for tours to be brought back are recalling there was a real difference: the Great Britain team could call upon Welsh RU converts and the occasional Scottish one too. For many years there were separate England and Wales teams that played France in a European Championship.

    I think you’ve reversed cause and effect regarding tours too: they didn’t stifle International competition as much as reflect the game’s small geographic footprint in the world. Let’s be crystal clear: tours are something that only small-time international sports have. Small-time ones have tours, big-time ones have continental cups and world cups. How RL gets from A to B is the question that needs to be answered.

    • druzik says:

      One or two converts in a team of 20 hardy constitutes Great Britain though does it?

      The answer to your question i think has been answered over the last 5-10 years. the sport has grown enough, in my eyes, that we can have regular regional tournaments.

      We are not a small time sport anymore, many people still think that way, but we are not. We have a wide range of nations and nationalities playing our game, even within just Australia, NZ, the UK and France!

      Lets have all these nations shine… why not give all these nations opportunities to play the best rather than just have 3-4 countries play among themselves?

  2. dragons4eva says:

    Good post Druzik and welcome back.

    I’ll comment on your post in two parts;

    Tours

    Tours as you say limits how many nations can truly play a sport. It sets up this mindset in sports such as Union and cricket where only true nations get to take on the best! Soccer shows how by eliminating tours you can truly have a global sport…they ain’t perfect but it works!

    I would have tours to new open areas. The Pioneers, BARLA etc visiting new RL markets are the ONLY exceptions i would have to tours being used. Tours can hamper growth but it can also start it if used in the right way! The country you started RL with had a tour didn’t it? So i guess it shows with the right method in place a tour can be good.

    RLIF Dominance

    In recent months the RLIF has made ‘better’ decisions. Its still dominated by the ‘big 3’ however with what you said i believe that hopefully new nations will be popping up and the RLIF actually do their job. Colin Love gone was a blessing from above and hopefully the new people in power will do better things for the game!

    All the best man!

    • druzik says:

      That is a fair point… maybe at the lower levels having teams like the GB pioneers do tours is a good way to spread the game… But my comments are aimed more at the top level, the top national teams of every country.

      As for the RLIF, we’ll see where they go, so far I have not been impressed at all.

  3. Adam Everitt says:

    Good article mate. It definitely gives a different slant on things and you make some good points.

    I’ve sent you my number via direct message on Twitter, too.

  4. Lee Mullen says:

    What a stupid arrogant f*cking load of nonsense this article is! ut is clear there is a POLITICAL AGENDA of preventing GREAT BRITAIN being the TRUE national team, despite that Britain as a a name and NATION was around much longer than ENGLAND!! This muppet who wrote such sh*te need to zip up and pull his head in!!

    BRING BACK GREAT BRITAIN END OF!!

    • druzik says:

      No Political agenda here… if you have nothing constructive to say then please refrain from using the language you have.

      You may be right, but since the decision has been made to play the home nations, as it is in many of the team sports, then we need to make sure that they have an equal opportunity to do something for the game.

      Your comments miss my point completely, it seems you read the first paragraph and then that was it. My point actually has very little to do about great britain, and more about the fact that tours do not belong in modern sport… in our modern sport anyway… anymore.

      • Lee Mullen says:

        Sorry. As somebody says below England, Wales, Scotland and NI are not sovereign nations they are simply part of the nation and country of the UK, so why are they having “imnternational” teams?

        So wrong, when NSW or Qld never are allowed to do the same!

      • druzik says:

        NSW and QLD are states, and not countries.

        Wales, Scotland and England have seperate parliaments and act autonomously. Yes they may not be sovereign in that they are part of the Union, but they are more countries than NSW or QLD ever will be.

        These nations all have their own sporting teams in Soccer, Rugby Union, Cricket, and the Commonwealth Games, as well as a host of other sports. Only the Olympics and Tennis ASAIK they fly under a united banner.

        A quick look at Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom

        “The United Kingdom …. Is a country in its own right and consists of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”

        But my point in all this is that, call it England or Great Britain… that team will be almost all dominated by the English players, all that tours will do it take players and resources away from the countries. Be it in the home nations or in the pacific. If you start getting Kangaroo, Kiwi and Lions tours etc… happening again then all the other smaller nations will collapse losing all their best players to those countries and will never, every see any good competition other than a world cup, so once every 4 years… and rugby league will continue to be marginalized and ridiculed by the rest of the sporting world…

        The flatcappers will have won then.

  5. rj says:

    First, there’s no such thing as a sovereign country of Wales or Scotland, so why should they national teams? The Confederate States of America, the California Republic, the Vermont Republic, the Republic of West Florida, the Republic of Texas have all been an independent country more recently than either Wales or Scotland, should they have a national team in any sport?

    Second, wasn’t there a good Welsh RL player not that long ago (in the past couple years) that chose to play for England because England are by far better? If that’s the case, the notion of Scottish and Welsh RL teams is nothing more than meant to be English cannon fodder to provide them wins instead of any real development toward international rugby league because if that was the desire, international rugby league’s eligibility restrictions would be tightened. The current English national team and the Great Britain national team are one and the same. Wales and Scotland are just imaginary states (I’m not alone on this, you don’t see them at the Olympics do you?) made up of players that are not good enough to represent England/Great Britain.

    • druzik says:

      Right… you make my point… players still choose to play for England because they are still the only ones getting any decent game time against the main teams… because there are no tournaments for them to be exposed on a regular basis to other teams. Once every four years is not enough. sporadic games against England and France is not enough.

      If we want to be taken seriously as a sport then we need to get teams playing more and being exposed more to each other and the world. Tours do nto do this, it only confines things to the two nations that play in them… and pools players into those nations since they are then only ones that are playing menaingful matches.

      tours = 3/4 nations in Rugby League

  6. rj says:

    On the idea of tours, nothing good was ever served from a team in any sport knowing they would get blown out before the game started. That’s why you have to divide into tiers. It’s the goal of internationals in any sport to prevent these as much as possible because it does nothing to grow the game. Soccer is a game where you can get dominated and still lose by a respectable-looking score of 3-0. I watch the U.S. play against these Caribbean islands in CONCACAF soccer that have far less people than New Hampshire and they put 10 men behind the ball. Those kinds of contests work in soccer because of the nature of the sport means you seldom actually score, it doesn’t work in the carrying the football variety be it rugby union, rugby league, American football (look at some of the scores in past IFAF competitions, the Australian junior gridiron team lost to American Samoa in American Samoa’s first ever representative game in the sport 92-7 earlier this year in the middle of a monsoon), and anything else you can imagine like Australian football.

    I just find this argument to be incredibly ill-thought. Honestly, what of rugby of either code makes you think it is possibly similar to soccer?

    • druzik says:

      Tiers can work, but nations in those teirs still need to have exposure to better teams. You need fluidity and not the glass ceilings of Union and cricket.

      People fear blow out scores, I do not. I have been in camp with many rugby league nations where they knew they would get beaten big, and were, yet were not disheartened by it, that just spurred them on more.

      The recent GB Pioneers tour of Poland is a great example. We knew that they would be absolutely smashed in those games, it wasn’t the point. Despite a 152-0 score line the Polish players relished the game and all they learnt and want more. More players have come to training now wanting to give it a go.

      Any score, weather its a blow out or not, gives a team a bench mark. When a team has the best team they can have, without interference from the outside, when they know they gave their best, blow out scores become irrelevant to them.

  7. Farmduck says:

    “Funny enough this is coming from section of the Australian fans and sporting public”

    Really???? As a fanatical AUS RL fan, I can sincerely say that I’ve never heard anyone mention this. Also, I don’t know any AUS RL fans who could tell you the difference between GB and England.

    “So what is the solution then? Simple tournaments. I always say pay credit where credit is due. Soccer in my eyes has the best international set up.”

    I don’t follow soccer so perhaps you can help here. Do countries with no full-time professional leagues get regular games against Brazil, Germany, Spain, etc?

    • druzik says:

      Well a quick search, for past, present and future games since 2010-2013, these are some of the countries that Germany, Brazil, Spain and England have played, with various qualifying tournaments for regional championships and also the world cup, also some “friendly” internationals:

      Germany: Belgium x2, Azerbaijan x2, Turkey x2, Kazakhstan x4, Austria x4, Portugal, Netehrlands x2, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Argentina, Faroe Islands x2, Ireland x2

      England: Egypt, Mexico, Japan, USA, Algeria, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria x2, Switzerland x2, Montenegro x2, France x2, Denmark, Wales x2, Ghana, Spain, Sweden x2, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium Ukraine x2, Italy x2, Moldova, San Marino, Poland

      Spain: Venezuela, Serbia, Sth Korea, China, Ireland, Croatia, France x3, Portugal, Italy x2, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Germany x2, Belarus x2, Panama, Finland, and in 2013 will have a 3 games in the confederations Cup, Ukraine, Bolivia and Australia.

      Brazil: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, USA, Mexico, Argentina x3, Sweden, China, Japan

  8. Cheyne Maher says:

    Hi Dan,

    As you say we need to have some type of regular structure where nations can progress from tier to tier. I think maintaining the tiered format is a good way of maintaining some competiveness. Eg. Aus should play the likes of PNG, Tonga etc more often. Those countries should play the likes of Japan etc, but if Aus were to play Japan it could be ugly.

    I agree the “pioneer”tours can be valuable if done properly.

    I think maybe shortish regional tournies, could allow for the bigger nations (or those who can tour viably) to also have traditional tours in one year and everyone is happy.

    Eg. Aus, NZ, PNG and Tonga play in an Oceanic Cup, in a knockout or round robin style format. This would be 2-3 games, without too many blowouts and you could have a “oceanic plate” with promotion and relegation. This could then be followed by a a three-four match Ashes/Baskerville series.

    So Aus might play 2-3 oceanic cup games, followed by 3 ashes tests. This would still fit into a 6 week international season, provides incentive for the “tier two”nations, but allows the flexibility of tours, which can be lucrative, which is important as all nations need to make money where they can. Alternatively Aus could chose to just participate in the regional tournie and forgoe any extra tour. Or they may go on a development tour to Fiji, Samoa and Cooks…. Meaningful structure and flexibility

    • druzik says:

      I have set out a meaningful tournament structure in my White Paper.

      I am not saying you throw a team like Japan into the deep end with Australia. They need to go through qualifiers and earn their place. You need a logical structure, but teams always want to play better teams and have the opportunity to play the best, they still have to earn that right.

      The proposition you have there still weights things to one side, one that will dominate the other nations, you still end up leaving out Samoa and Cook Islands and Japan, a couple of those teams have shown to be capable in the past.

      Look for a growing sport, if we want to be taken seriously by others and organizations, tours just don;t cut it, they stifle growth.

      Let me use Poland as an example…. for us to even have any remote possibility of funding from the government, they are only interested in tournaments that Poland can be part of where we play a range of nations. Not a one off tour by a team. There more we will be able to play in a European Cup, Slavic Cup, World Cup etc… then the greater are the chances of sponsorship and Government support and recognition. This is the case in every continental European Nation.

      The Pioneers Tours and other tours like that at the start are good, I am not denying that…. but at the top end of the game they have no place in modern times.

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