Al-Jazeera the unlikely saviours for French rugby league?

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By Matt_S, Matt_S is a Roar Pro


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    While rugby league in Australia was hailing a new era in the sport’s history with the advent of the independent commission, a momentous moment was also occurring in France.

    On February 8, the French Federation of Rugby 13 announced a major three-year television deal between France’s sole Super League club Dragons Catalans, and Al-Jazeera Sport, a new entrant in the domestic French television market.

    The deal also includes coverage of the NRL and State of Origin, and is a significant income source for French rugby league. Previous deals with Canal+ and Orange TV saw the FFR pay production costs or receive no profit at all for the promotion and televising of the sport.

    This new agreement presents a major shift for the game. Hopefully the perceived lack of respect for the sport in high places, especially the media, can now begin to dissipate.

    The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Sport channel is resource rich, having already snared major European football coverage, and now provides rugby league in France with significant opportunities for the future.

    The agreement was signed off by the Deputy Director of Al-Jazeera Sport, Charles Bietry. Bietry is no stranger to rugby league as he was head of Paris Saint-Germain FC Omnisport between 1992-98. PSG partnered with rugby league to launch the club into the inaugural Super League season in 1996.

    Though it soon became a failure for the club, Bietry remained a fan of the game and commented how good rugby league was as a television sport, comments he reiterated again in a recent interview for L’Independent, a major southern French daily.

    How fitting that all these years later, rugby league has been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime courtesy of Bietry. Dragons Catalans is seen by many as the flag bearer of rugby league in France, and has led a revival for the sport in many areas. Notably, television and print media coverage has increased, especially in its traditional markets of Aquitaine, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Provence.

    The Catalans-led revival has also seen a rise in interest for the national team, that has resulted in France hosting pool games for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup in 2013. The national team, commonly known as Les Chanticleers (The Roosters) have also made a re-appearance on French free to air television in the last couple of years, along with the domestic Elite One Championship and cup finals.

    New clubs, old clubs reborn, and the rise of the game in the school system have also been notable features of French rugby league’s resurgence.

    With participation numbers projected to reach 50,000 by 2014, the next logical step would be for Elite One to come under Al-Jazeera Sport’s umbrella. Such a scenario could be possible if French rugby league envisaged an Australian-style independent commission.

    Currently the domestic league is very much village controlled, with the exception of a few larger centres like Toulouse, Perpignan, Montpellier and Avignon. Television income could attract new investment and interest in the game from larger French cities where rugby league was once popular, in Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, and even Paris.

    With such a history, rugby league could once again establish a foothold into the minds of the French sporting public.

    Whether you see it as luck, with the advent of so many content-starved digital and cable channels, the game must take advantage of this opportunity in what was once an important rugby league market. Al-Jazeera Sport’s coverage of Dragons Catalans may just be the start of a new dawn for rugby league in France.

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    The Crowd Says (49)

    • February 12th 2012 @ 7:49am
      League fan said | February 12th 2012 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      Good article and good to hear RL is doing well in France. They have also been attracting some good crowds to their internationals. For me they should expand the 4 nations to a 5 nations and have France as a permanent inclusion. To play England, NZ and Australia every year will help them improve.

    • February 12th 2012 @ 7:59am
      Brad said | February 12th 2012 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Great news. I really think France is the country with the most potential to grow rugby league. It has a rich history with the game and it would be great if they could get to the level again when they used to beat Australia, NZ and England. They need another team in super league for this to happen

    • February 12th 2012 @ 8:23am
      Michael said | February 12th 2012 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      Yeah good point Brad another super league team in France would certainly do wonders for RL in France. Strike while the iron is hot. Also totally agree league fan if they were to play the big boys Australia, NZ and England every year they would certainly get better.

    • February 12th 2012 @ 10:49am
      Crosscoder said | February 12th 2012 @ 10:49am | ! Report

      Good news indeed for France.
      Think having Lebanon now getting deeply entrenched in rugby league,schools in Saudi Arabia playing the sport and Morocco I understand getting back in the picture,having this media outlet involved will only enhance the opportunities for the code’s growth both within France and the Middle east.

    • February 12th 2012 @ 12:01pm
      Matt S said | February 12th 2012 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

      Thank you for the comments.

      I think Al-Jazeera Sport is a great fit for rugby league given the sport’s links with many African & Arab communities in Southern France. However, Al-Jazeera is more than just an éthnic’ focused sports channel but one that aims to become a mainstream giant in sport broadcasting in France.

    • February 12th 2012 @ 1:17pm
      Jalan said | February 12th 2012 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

      Qatar based? Isn’t that where terrorist group Hamas are now based? Hmmmm

      It’s time the British and French game had an independent RL commission running the code.

      • February 12th 2012 @ 2:35pm
        JZ said | February 12th 2012 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

        Really is that all you got out of the article Jalan ?

      • February 12th 2012 @ 2:50pm
        mikeylives said | February 12th 2012 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

        Not sure if u are taking the piss (hope u are) Jalan, but Hamas is based in Gaza.
        Al-Jazeera is actually a respected broadcaster – many BBC journos work for it.

      • February 12th 2012 @ 5:00pm
        Ravi Chandra said | February 12th 2012 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

        Jalan obviously keeps abreast of world events.
        This was reported just yesterday.

        • February 12th 2012 @ 6:29pm
          Crosscoder said | February 12th 2012 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

          And Hamas operates in Lebanon,where rugby league is making great progress.
          So the point is ludicrous.It is sport not politics FHS.

          • February 12th 2012 @ 6:45pm
            John Ryan said | February 12th 2012 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

            Hi I may be wrong but the main group in Lebanon both in Government and they pretty well control Southern Lebanon is Hezbollah,Hamas runs Gaza and the old PLO is in power in the West Bank

            • February 13th 2012 @ 7:13am
              Crosscoder said | February 13th 2012 @ 7:13am | ! Report

              John Ryan My !!.Sorry you are correct re Hamas.Hezbollah does in fact operate in Lebanon,and Hamas in Gaza.Rugby league is still going ahead in leaps and bounds in that country.