Australia v France - 2017 Rugby League World Cup
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 03: The French team sing the national anthem before the 2017 Rugby League World Cup match between Australian Kangaroos and France at Canberra Stadium on November 3, 2017 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

It's hard to describe to a neutral the sheer joy that the decision to hold the Rugby League World Cup in France in 2025 brings.

In every way, this is a landmark moment for the game of rugby league (or rugby a xiii to French readers) in France, for the game in Europe and throughout the French-speaking world, and more broadly, for the game internationally.

The holding of a French Rugby League World Cup is both a reaffirmation of that country’s love for the game and a return to the competition’s very genesis – when the inaugural competition was held in France in 1954, largely at the prompting of the French, at times at odds with the desires of the more settled rugby league powers in England and Australia.

The advocacy and passion of the post-War French Rugby League President, Paul Barriere, in fighting for the creation of the tournament is still recognised in the naming of the Rugby League World Cup trophy after him.

In doing so, he continued a long tradition of international sports organisation from within France – particularly as reflected in soccer with the creation of the FIFA World Cup and the European Football Championships, all being the work of Frenchmen.

The disgraceful historical attempts to wipe rugby league from the French sporting landscape have been documented elsewhere, and nowhere in the rugby league world is the game pursued with a more vigorous ardour, nor has it faced such monumental obstacles to its existence.

That France was allowed to go from the preeminent national rugby league team in the 1950s to also-rans by the 1990s was a product of rugby union interference (the Vichy ban), governmental obsequiousness to shady rugby union influence (the Protocol), and a steady decline in playing numbers and visibility on the sporting landscape directly caused by both.

Rugby league in France still has a valid claim for reparations against both rugby union and the French government dating back to 1940.

Despite directly benefiting from its acts to destroy rugby league, French rugby union (embodied in the current FFR body) has never acknowledged its war-time atrocities, nor has it apologised for them, much less repaid the millions of Francs that were stolen from rugby league in 1940 and 1941.

Valuable records of the game were also destroyed when the then French rugby league headquarters was burned down in an act of arson bearing frightening similarities to the actions of totalitarian governments of the time.

For the game of rugby league to have survived such vicious acts demonstrates that the flame that burns for the game in France will not be extinguished lightly.

Few if any sports in the world have been subject to such malevolence for merely daring to exist.

The decision to award the 2025 tournament to France is a well overdue recognition of this once formidable rugby league force and its historical contribution to the game.

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