It seems an appropriate time after the NRL’s Multicultural Round to reflect on the rather incredible multiculturalism that permeates modern rugby league in Australia.
Brad Walter recently penned an excellent article for NRL.com outlining the fact that 40 different nationalities are represented in the 2022 NRL competition.
This rather amazing statistic is even more remarkable when the NRL is directly compared on this score with those giants of world (and American) sport, the NBA and the NFL.
As of 2022, some 39 different nationalities were represented in the highest level of world club basketball, the NBA. Rather incredibly, one less than in Australia’s NRL! (And this the most international of all the American major sports bodies). The NRL comparison fares even better with the NFL, which on 2020 figures, was represented by a mere 24 different nations (including the USA).
While the NRL continues its march towards "Y-shaped" goalposts in its seemingly never-ending attempts to copy the NFL, it might consider the importance of the international aspect of rugby league which tends to suggest a closer eye to the NBA should be a priority in terms of implementing policies around the future development of rugby league in Australia, the southern hemisphere and the world.
There is absolutely no doubt that the NBA takes its international development obligations much more seriously than does the NRL- which is consistently mired in acts of myopia (witness the consolidation of an existing heartland area (The Dolphins) as “expansion” in the eyes of the Sydney powerbase).
The thing that the NRL seems to forget constantly is that rugby league is an international sport. In case the NRL missed the memo, rugby league turned 114 years old as an international sport in 2022, with the very first international game being Wales against New Zealand – in January 1908.
The international nature of the modern NRL competition should be something rugby league seeks to leverage constantly (together with its ability for its players to play international tournaments between nations), and yet the NRL increasingly takes its cues from the NFL and/or the AFL (two fiercely domestic competitions).
The entirely disrespectful attitude towards the 2021 World Cup demonstrated by the NRL was in keeping with a totally inward focussed agenda which ignores the history and importance of the tournament to the sport of rugby league more broadly.
The NRL has been favoured most fortunately by the reality of modern travel and the movement of people from different nationalities to Australia over the last 50 years.
It's time they started to take advantage of this to further internationalise rugby league throughout the world, rather than see this vital task as some sort of worrisome burden they are lumbered with.