Here’s the thing people: rugby league – and pretty much any popular sport – is not going to be killed by the impacts of COVID-19.
They may be paused, hindered or change form.
But they will not be killed.
Why? Because we Australians love our sport. And just like nature abhors a void, a large mass of people in this country will not tolerate an absence of organised sport.
Where there are none, we will create some.
I myself was largely responsible for creating the all-girl junior football leagues in Canberra. I wanted my girls to play but there were very few all-girls teams.
It wasn’t until the under-12 age group that the first all-girls competitions existed. And even then they were small.
So I went about creating all-girls competitions at my local club from the under-seven ages right up. As well, I contacted all the other clubs and encouraged them to do the same. The result was that just five years later there were thousands of girls playing in all-girls teams right across Canberra.
There are people just like me all across this nation who have done or will do the same.
While those people are all through our society, organised sport may face set back but it will never disappear.
What may disappear are the current organisations that run the competitions.
But that void will be filled. Why? Firstly, because that void has always been filled.
From 1908 to 1982 it was a body called the New South Wales Rugby Football League. From 1983 to 1994 it was the New South Wales Rugby League.
The Queensland Rugby League, Brisbane Rugby League and Country Rugby League were all also running bits and pieces too.
In 1995 to 1997 (with a Super League season in there too) it was the Australian Rugby League.
Only from 1998 has the National Rugby League been the peak body running the game.
Let’s not forget how that came about. It was formed after the Super League war as a joint partnership between the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and Super League, controlled by media giant News Corporation.
Both sides had fought tooth and nail for control of the game from 1995. Why? Because the game was valuable. The crowds were the biggest in the history of the game, as was the viewing audience.
There was money to be made.
However, by 1997 – and after millions of dollars were spent by both sides – it became apparent to all parties that the best way forward was for both sides to unite and run one competition. Channel Nine got the free-to-air rights, Foxtel got the pay TV rights.
The National Rugby League was created as the titular head, above the QRL, NSWRL and CRL. All three of those bodies were reduced in role, responsibility and status.
You could argue that it was a competition created to directly supply the product of rugby league so it would generate income to the new regime through its popularity. They didn’t create rugby league, they just took it over.
And now the new ARLC chairman Peter V’landys is saying that the NRL may indeed go the way of the dodo without government handouts.
“It’s one of the toughest challenges for us to stay viable in the history of the game. I spent all day yesterday looking into our accounts and all I thought was catastrophic,” he said.
“We are asking for an economic stimulus. Rugby league and every other sport should be in consideration. We are asking the government to invest not only in the economic situation but the social benefits of rugby league.”
No freaking way.
There are billions of dollars revolving around the game of rugby league in this country that can and should be accessed long before any other assistance should be considered.
If the parties that have been only too happy to make money off the game suddenly don’t have enough passion for the game to support it now it’s going to be requiring their investment, well then they can go elsewhere immediately and not bother darkening our doors again.
I’m sure the NSWRL and QRL – acting as the peak bodies and partners of the clubs – can quickly fill that organisational void and do it with actual passion for the game and not just because they want to make money.
And they will make money because heaps of us adore rugby league.
As for us – the punters – the best thing we can do is figure out how best to support our clubs to get over this – if they actually have a need. There are quite a few clubs who will need no assistance at all, such is their financial strength. Some will need a bit of propping up.
Some will need a lot of support. One of the best things we can do now is not to try and get our membership reimbursed – acknowledging that there will be some for whom this is a financial necessity.
There are going to be a lot of us punters who are going to be financially hurting due to this crisis. For those of us who can help, our first thought should be how we can help the people in our communities who need it.
And after you’ve done that, if you can send some support to the clubs that are struggling to keep them afloat then that’d be grouse.
With us fans sticking together, rugby league will come through this fine.
Maybe even better.