The chief executive of last year’s Rugby League World Cup, Jon Dutton, has revealed he is ‘devastated’ over France’s decision to pull out of hosting the Rugby League World Cup in 2025 – and suggested international rugby league’s business model must ‘fundamentally change’ to allow the sport to thrive.
Dutton oversaw what many considered to be a successful tournament in England last autumn, an event which was pushed back 12 months due to uncertainty over the Covid-19 pandemic. He worked extensively with the France 2025 team, including its chief, Luc Lacoste, to co-ordinate a handover that would have continued the momentum from the tournament, including a continuation of the successful multi-tournament format.
However Dutton, who is now the chief executive of British Cycling, said to Thirteen: “I’m really sad. Devastated. I worked with Luc closely, we went out there in January and saw they were good people who were full of ambition. At this stage, so close to the tournament, it’s a blow for France but also for rugby league.”
Dutton was able to deliver last year’s tournament in no small part due to the significant funding from Government, totalling almost £15million. France cited Government pressures as the reason for their withdrawal, and the general consensus within the game is that finances within the international game are close to non-existent.
New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and Qatar have stepped forward to host next, but Dutton warned that any decision needs to be part of a clear, coherent long-term strategy for the international game.
“Those that will have to find the money to stage a World Cup will have a job on,” Dutton said. “You’ve got to radically change the business model, to be honest. IMG are in the game now and they’re looking to future-proof their investment.
“But the business model must fundamentally change long-term; you have to reduce costs in certain areas and increase opportunities in others. Perhaps this is a reset where the sport takes a step backwards to take two step forwards.”
Dutton also warned that a prosperous international game requires global support. “Worldwide buy-in is absolutely essential,” he said.
“It needs continued, stable leadership at the top, and everyone working together because if the GDP of the international game increases, everyone can reap the benefits from that. There just has to be thought given to the business model in regards to stimulating new markets. We’re in a world post-pandemic where it’s more expensive to deliver any sporting event.”
Dutton also admitted he was unsure of the prospect of Qatar becoming the next hosts. The Middle Eastern country has a controversial record on various human rights issues and Dutton stressed that while the riches that would come with them hosting would be significant, there has to be consideration given to more than money.
“We all have our own personal view,” he said.
“We’ve watched the FIFA World Cup and it was an amazing tournament, but perhaps it didn’t do enough in terms of promoting human rights and some of the things that are rightly pertinent in society today.
“There will always be opportunities for sport to secure new investment but investment isn’t just financial. If a World Cup was in the Middle East, does that give rugby league the growth opportunities to the nations who might want to be the next Brazil, or Jamaica?
“I’m not sure it does. There are regions actively looking to secure sports rights, but why? I just hope the decision makers are aware of the whole picture. During the last tournament, so many people celebrated the inclusive nature of our tournament. We shouldn’t underestimate the social impact last year’s tournament had.”