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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 16:29 GMT
Sport's unlucky thirteen
Millennium Stadium
The 2000 World Cup failed to raise the roof
By BBC Sport Online's Paul Cohen

The arrows have been flying ever since rugby league presented itself to a depressingly disinterested global audience.

The Welsh dragons injected some much needed life into the wounded animal, but with just one game left of the World Cup the sport will be relieved to retreat back to the safety of the M62 corridor.

The trophy, as expected, is heading to the southern hemisphere and administrators will be hoping the Antipodean superpowers can end the tournament on a high when they meet at Old Trafford.

Unless New Zealand win on Saturday and end Australia's 25 year reign as world champions, a month-long competition will be remembered for 40 minutes when Wales turned the world upside down against the kings from Down Under.

Failed

To say the World Cup has failed would be repeating what most people were saying three weeks ago.

Wales
Wales finally lifted the competition
A first weekend of poor crowds and mismatches set a precedent that has been followed to the letter.

England against Australia attracted a sell-out 75,000 crowd to Twickenham. That, however, was for rugby union.

The ground was less than half full for the 13-man version on the opening day of the World Cup.

Twickenham is not in the game's heartland and the weather was atrocious but how do you explain a crowd of just 16,032 in Bolton for a World Cup semi-final involving the host nation?

Dwarfed

At least that attendance was a rare foray into five figures. For a sport so good at hyping itself up at Super League level the resources put into promoting the international game seemed woefully thin.

Officials took a gamble by trying to spread the league game to union heartlands like Gloucester and south Wales but to stage a game at the Millennium Stadium was optimistic in the extreme.

The 17,000 who were dwarfed by the Cardiff arena when Wales took on New Zealand in the group stages could have raised the roof at the Vetch Field in Swansea.

With a prospective audience coming down from an Olympic high, the timing of the World Cup could have been better and the appalling weather undoubtedly had an effect on attendances.

The roots of the problem go deeper. Unlike rugby union where there are eight teams capable of beating each other on their day, rugby league has just two powers; perhaps three if the home nations fielded a united Great Britain side.

Crucial ingredient

It is not a worldwide game and the public saw through attempts to "globalise" the event by incorporating several nations who do not even have a domestic league.

New Zealand v Lebanon
New Zealand v Lebanon: Was Beirut watching?
Beirut was not gripped in rugby league fervour, as Lebanon, made up almost entirely of Sydneysiders, took to the field.

Travelling support, the crucial ingredient in making a festival out of a sporting spectacle, was non-existent.

It was a tournament of small nations far from home and even if the whole population of the Cook Islands had turned up they would not have filled the McAlpine Stadium.

Chequered history

Television audiences have been okay with figures of around three million for England's match against New Zealand, but perhaps a general lack of mass exposure has had an effect of marginalising the game over the past five years.

The terrestrial television season ends in spring with the Challenge Cup final before Sky take over for a summer of Super League.

The Rugby League World Cup has had a chequered history. It did not begin until the 1950s and has followed no regular pattern in terms of format or timespan.

The 2000 model of 16 teams attempting to progress from four groups to an eight team knockout competition is a format used over the years in football and rugby union.

Unfortunately that was where the similarity ended.

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See also:

20 Nov 00 |  Wales
League set for five nations
19 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Time to put country first
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