Why does rugby league still insist on calling itself rugby? The noble sport’s 15th World Cup is about to begin, and yet apparently it isn’t a sport at all. The news that such “sports” as pole-dancing and footgolf have been admitted instead by those who decide these things leaves rugby league still languishing in purgatory as some sort of subsidiary to the other code. But there’s one obvious step they could take themselves that might help.
Drop the rugby.
In all the 122 years since they walked out on the original, it’s incredible they’ve never come up with a name of their own, something to distance themselves from those odious toffs who wouldn’t allow a man an honest wage for the time he took off work to entertain thousands. Why divorce someone but insist on retaining the marital name, reminding yourself at every turn who it was you walked away from?
Then there’s the insistence the other rugby use that ridiculous suffix union. It’s a prissy word for handholding and wedding bells. No wonder they hold them to it. And isn’t league so much more dangerous and sexy, redolent of conspiracy and freedom-fighters. They walked out for money, invented their own game, insisted on equal rights to the ancestral name and came up with the cooler suffix. But at what cost?
It’s not as if there isn’t a template for how it should be done. In 1863, irritated by the didactic behaviour of those who favoured another version of football, the devotees of the rugby code broke away. Sound familiar? Except they didn’t cling to the former’s name. Yes, in the paperwork they retained it. The new sport’s official title was Rugby Football, the other’s Association Football. But, basically, they became known as rugby and football.
Fast forward 150 years or so, and imagine if irate rugby fans wrote in to complain to newspapers about their football coverage. “Does this paper not realise there’s more than one code of football? It’s typical of the arrogance of the sport that they call themselves football when the name’s association football. It’s as if the rest of us don’t exist.” They’d be laughed out of town. Get a name of your own, though, and it’s easier to move on.
Anyway, has league forgotten where the name comes from? Rugby School. A public school. One of the very poshest. Up there with the Etons and Westminsters of this world, a bastion of privilege and condescension towards the very type of working-class hero who walked away from all that shit in the first place. Even rugby (union) is trying to distance itself from that particular stereotype.
Seriously, you fellers in league, with your dynamic, ball-handling game and its curious rituals of wriggling on the floor and scoring tries, yours is a wonderful sport in its own right. But nobody asked you to break away in 1895 and invent it. Time you came up with your own bloody name.
Drop the rugby. All else will follow.