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A code war to the death: Why must one national sports global expansion come at the expense of another?

31st October, 2023
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(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
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31st October, 2023
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It was a move that has left me scratching my head and raising questions about the priorities of Australian sports diplomacy.

Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys recently found himself rubbing shoulders with none other than the President of the United States, Joe Biden, at a state dinner at the White House.

While some may applaud this bold endeavour to promote rugby league on the international stage, others are left wondering: why must one national sport grow at the expense of another?

V’landys is a charismatic figure known for his passion for rugby league and he was invited to this prestigious event by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is, as it turns out, a notable rugby league enthusiast himself.

Their discussion focused on the NRL’s upcoming season opener in Las Vegas, marking a strategic push to crack the lucrative American market.

V’landys and the NRL are eager to expand their horizons, introducing the joys of rugby league to the American audience. I cannot help but wonder what the cost will be to Australian sport as a whole.

Passionate followers of the Australian Football League (AFL) might be feeling a little off with this latest development. V’landys has previously taken public swipes at Aussie Rules football, even calling it a “boring sport.”

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Now, as he stands before the world’s most powerful human being, he openly aspires to make rugby league the biggest sport in the country.

But let us not rush to judgment. We must remember that any visionary leader needs determination and drive to achieve their goals.

V’landys believes that “hundreds of millions of dollars” could flow into Australia from the United States if they successfully introduce Americans to the magic of “rugba leeg”.

That is no small feat, considering the vast potential audience of 340 million people.

But herein lies the crux of the matter. Why should one sport’s international growth come at the expense of another?

The AFL and NRL have both played pivotal roles in Australian sports culture. They have passionately divided the nation for decades. Surely these two sports do not need to vie for the same international territory.

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If the US market is so big, why is it not possible to both achieve their own slice of the pie without dragging each other through the mud?

The AFL has history here as well with there being no doubt that they have grown at the expense of the NRL in the past. But I think it is time for this tribalism to stop at our border, particularly when trying to access new markets.

Brand Australia has been a great success in the US already – I would like to see these two codes link arms under this banner and both win as a result.

I cannot help but wonder about the underlying motivations behind this push for international growth. Is it about expanding the horizons of Australian sport and establishing a global presence, or is it simply a way to one-up a rival code?

A betting agency or promoter in the US looking at these two sports, should not have to choose one or the other. Both would be attractive.

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Furthermore, this quest for global recognition should not come at the expense of the grassroots development of either sport in Australia.

While international expansion is undoubtedly appealing, it should not be prioritised over nurturing local talent, investing in community clubs, and preserving the essence of what makes Australian sport unique.

So, as V’landys embarks on this mission to conquer the American market, we are left with a series of questions. Are these efforts truly in the best interest of Australian sports, or his own hip pocket and resume?

Should international expansion always be the ultimate goal, or is there a way for both codes to coexist and thrive both nationally and on the international stage?

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In the pursuit of global recognition, let us not forget the importance of preserving the vibrant and competitive landscape of Australian sports.

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The world may be vast, but sometimes, the greatest adventures are found in our own backyard.

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