Over the last few years I have been privileged to meet many people in Rugby League. Whether they are players administrators or just crazy fans who love the game and will follow it anywhere, I certainly fall under that last category. However, something that I have come to realise is that no matter how much we all love the sport and try to be on top of it, no matter how many forums there essentially its very difficult to know exactly what one federation or country is doing in one part of the world to another part of the world. Certainly there is also much ignorance between many fans of Rugby League and some administrators out there who go and make rules and decision for their own benefit without actually realising what the wider implications will be for the sport. So how in the world can you change this?
How about an International Conference on Rugby League!
The RLEF and RLIF certainly offer part of the solution with their own AGM and Conferences that they have once a year for a day. But in reality I do not think that is enough, its restricted essentially to its members. I think there has to be a much more “scientific” approach to it.
Now everyone knows I am a Plasma Physicist and one of the things as a scientist is that I have to attend conferences. Those conferences offer many things than just a bunch of scientist getting together for a week. They offer a rare opportunity every two or three years for everyone to really catch up on the latest things that everyone are doing, the latest technologies, see other areas that I may not be an expert in but could offer in the future a new drive for research. Most importantly it offers one of the rare opportunities and a place where we can meet face to face with colleagues or rivals, and discuss face to face issues and problems and also to set up new partnerships and collaborations. There is always an industrial component to any good conference, that is companies that manufacture equipment or have services relevant to the conference topic come and have stands there to do business, as well they give can presentations on some of their products or research they do. So why not do something similar for Rugby League.
The first thing with such a conference will be that the knowledge that is there is essentially going to be public knowledge. The types of people I would encourage and hope would attend such a conference are Federation administrators like a President, or CEO, or even a board member. You need to have team staff there, I would have at least the Coach, the Team captain or a senior team member and one of the medical staff attend. You invite scientists and engineers that deal in sports science research specifically in Rugby League but also in sport where it could be applicable to rugby league. This could say development of new materials for clothing, new drinks say, new pitch surfaces, new ball design or material design for balls (we have gone from leather to all weather synthetic rubbers in our footballs). Industrial partners, companies like Steeden or Gilbert can be there to show what their latest innovations are. You have members of the press there to give talks on their role in the sport and what they believe their role should be in the sport, or to give talk on specific topics. However last but not least, you want to have at least one session that is open to the paying public. Where the public can come in and ask the tough questions to an open forum, of course it has to be done respectfully and not in a threatening way, but its important that the sport for the fans stays with the fans. They demand answers and should be able to ask the question to get them.
Like I say, I am envisioning a scientific approach to the way they are done, how we do it in physics, and am sure they way they do it in other sciences as well. In fact I did go to a Sports Engineering conference back in 2001 and they certainly did things the way everyone else did. So you need to make sure that this is announces at least 12-18 months before hand, so that everyone knows about it. You need to have registration for it as well as those who intend on presenting something give a short abstract or synopsis of the topic they wan t to talk about. What this does is that it helps to set which topical sessions the presentations will be, how long to set talks, usually its 50 min for a plenary to 25 min for an invited talk and 10-15 min for a regular talk. There is a conference fee that people have to pay, this is what covers the cost of hiring the hall and putting on dinner and lunches etc… If this is something that really will take off you can make a small profit from it so that the next one offsets costs and reduces them. It is something that can be done, its done all the time in science, usually costs for conferences are like $200 – $300 for a week, and usually get a few hundred people to them.
Now, aside from the professionals, there is also the chance for students who are studying or doing research in rugby league to show their stuff. Talks and Posters can be presented and have them involved directly with people asking them about their work. You never know future careers could be made there through such networking. Actually its how my career started in essence at a conference in Germany in 2001.
Activities that will include, a conference reception on the first night of the conference, A conference dinner which usually has a guest speak whom does not necessarily have to be from Rugby League. Also a Touch Rugby League game on an afternoon or lunchtime. There can always be a separate forum or meeting held by individual parties as well. Imagine if at a conference you can get any issues, such as splits, getting sorted out. And of course, if there is any big news to be announced at such a conference, there can always be some sort of Press conference held, that gets the maximum exposure.
So what kind of topics should be covered at a conference, where people can discuss and give talks and presentations. These are some I have in mind:
Just to give you an idea on something that could be talked about from the technology aspect, have a read of this article by Brad Walter.
The whole conference can then be set up through the week to have the plenary, invited and regular talk through each day. Towards the end of the week you have discussion sessions with not only the public forum but also the conference members that are present to do a general summary and discussion of what has been presented and talked about. So below is an example of what I would envision the conference lay out would be. The colour coding correspond to the subject matter above.
The point of the conference is to discuss important issues and topics. Its not there to set policy as such. That is what the various AGM of the RLIF and RLEF etc… are. They set policy, but a conference like this can provide all the latest information and also a feel for the attitudes of people to help make the right decisions when setting those policies in the sport.
That is probably the most important question, Originally I was thinking it would be every two years. But maybe that is too ambitious to start with. Talking with some people in the business, it was clear that maybe every four years should be the goal to start with and have it based around the world cup, maybe the week right after, when the players and administrators are still there, give them the opportunity to be there and mingle. I guess this could change to either before or during as well, but my thinking is that the last thing some of the players and coaches want is to have such a distraction during the tournament. But yes have this as part of the World Cup events. It has not only the countries that are competing involved, but you can have delegates from non competing countries come and still have the opportunity to interact with important people, but most important it gives an opportunity for the fans to be involved in some small way, without the fans the sport is nothing in the end, it gives them a voice as well.
One last thing, many of the physics conferences also align themselves with a scientific journal to publish papers that are based on the presentations. These are peer reviewed by the people in the conference. Something similar could be done, either with an established journal such as Journal of Sports Engineering, Sports Engineering and Science or Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology. It could be done through one of the Rugby League Magazines as a special publication, or its something the conference itself could put out. The delegates that attend the conference get a free copy of the journal when it comes out, but it should also be accessible to others and the public at some set price. This way the costs can also be made back for this production. Since its a once every 4 year event I think its not too much of an ask from the general public or companies who to want to have the information to pay for it. Its the way its done everywhere.
It’s an out there thought and concept. I think its a radically different approach to how the sport treats itself and is treated world wide I feel. It may get ridiculed by some sectors, it may be embraced by others. But I think the International Conference on Rugby League is an idea that needs to be out there for people to think about have an input. I am as always interested to know what you all think?
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