Sally Bolton – General Manager of Rugby League World Cup 2013 and long-time rugby fan – talks us through the logistics of taking this year’s World Cup to 21 venues across England and Wales.
My first job out of university was working on the 1995 Rugby League World Cup; 18 years later I’m the General Manager of Rugby League World Cup 2013 leading a team to deliver a tournament on home soil.
We are now 64 days away from the Opening Ceremony at the Millennium Stadium followed by England vs. Australia and then Wales against Italy – and I have to say I really can’t wait for it to get here now.
It’s been a long old journey but I’m hugely excited. There’s a serious amount of expectation for my team and I. We’re all desperate to get going to deliver an exceptional tournament.
I’ve tried to imagine sitting in the stands watching that first game but I have no idea how I’ll feel. Hopefully the overriding emotion will be one of pride.
Keeping it local
Between 2009 – when we started the bidding process to host the tournament in this country – and today, we’ve faced some huge challenges.
From the beginning we were very strategic about how we were going to put on a world-class tournament. Of course it’s never going to be completely straightforward and having 21 venues hosting matches is operationally very complex.
We could have used fewer venues but we wanted to share the excitement of hosting a World Cup as far and as wide as possible, visiting as many existing Rugby League venues while also taking the sport to new territories.
Many of the stadiums in the Rugby League heartlands are hosting matches but including the likes of Bristol, Cardiff, London and Limerick on our roster means we are reaching new audiences too.
What’s unique about our approach is these venues will only host one RLWC2013 match. It is part of our tactic to get people of that town or city engaged with the tournament. We are saying to them, ‘this is your one chance to see the best players in the world go head to head in your town or city, don’t miss out!’
That’s why we’ve given the towns and cities an element of responsibility for hosting their match. It gives them a sense of ownership and encourages them to really engage with their community and make their match-day experience the best it can be.
Another vision we had from the outset was we wanted every game to feel different. So for one hour leading up to kick-off each host has licence to do what they wish, within reason of course.
One example of this is every match ball will be delivered to the pitch differently. I can’t disclose some of these ideas because at this stage they are just that, ideas. But what I can say is we’ve received some interesting and inventive thoughts so keep an eye out.
Linking nations to local communities
One of the biggest tests we still face is when the 14 nations competing in the tournament land. Each team has its own unique issues and requests we have to consider.
The competing nations quite rightly want the best for their players. They will expect the best hotels, the best training facilities and smooth running transport to and from games – and they will get that.
It’s not just the logistical things we want to get right, we want to provide moments during the tournament these players will never forget, moments they will reflect on in years to come.
Ensuring they get to interact with local communities that are excited about hosting them at open training sessions, visits to hospitals or schools are ways we hope to do that.
A perfect family day-out
Another key area of my focus with just over two months to go is ticket sales. Over 40% of our target has been reached which is great news and with 55% of tickets £20 or less it’s extremely good value and the perfect day out for the family.
What’s encouraging is a high percentage of tickets have sold across all matches but particularly for the Opening Ceremony, ‘The Big Hit ’ semi-final double header at Wembley on November 23rd and the Final tickets have also been bought by people away from our Rugby League’s heartlands.
It’s hard to quantify, but we think the success of London 2012 has helped with this. This country is excited about major sporting events and Rugby League World Cup 2013 is the first in a long line of world-class events to follow the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
So what can I say to encourage you to part with your hard-earned cash, if you haven’t already, and purchase a ticket?
Well, the on-field action is the toughest, fastest and most physical of any team sport. The players are incredible athletes and the skill levels and flair of some of the teams, especially the Pacific islands’ teams, is something to behold.
Off the field fans can expect a warm and friendly atmosphere, perfect for families. There will be activity going on around the grounds in the build-up to kick off to go and get involved in, too.
We also understand we may need to educate newcomers, so the programmes will have an educational element explaining the basics; it’s a tactic we’ve taken from London 2012. They knew there would be a high percentage of the crowd who understood very little about what they were watching. We’re keen to ensure that anyone new to the sport has the best possible experience to encourage them to return.
Most importantly does England have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy? Absolutely! Australia are the favourites with the current holders New Zealand a close second. But the England team, led by coach Steve McNamara , could win it.
A fantastic home crowd will undoubtedly help their cause. The power of home support is an incredible thing, just look at how Team GB and ParalympicsGB did with the nation behind them. I urge you to do the same for our Rugby League team.
We will deliver a successful tournament whether England win it or not. There’s no denying though, it would be the icing on the cake.
Come down and join us!
This week is an exciting one for the sport with Wigan and Hull contesting the Tetley’s Challenge Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday.
Not only that but we are set to take over London’s iconic Trafalgar Square as part of a celebration of Rugby League in the capital.
The prestigious World Cup trophy will be on display in the square from 10am-4pm. Steve McNamara, England captain Kevin Sinfield and Rugby League legend Martin Offiah will all be on hand to meet the public and will be conducting a coaching master class with local London schoolchildren, who’ll be demonstrating the skill, speed and excitement of the sport.
And then it’s on to the Opening Ceremony. The roof is going to be closed at The Millennium Stadium and we promise the public an amazing show, the best the sport has ever seen. If you are interested in taking part please visit our website www.rlwc2013.com for more details.
When the trophy has been lifted, hopefully by England, and we sit down and analyse the tournament, I hope we can look back and say hand on heart we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.
That is: there are more people playing the game, more people watching the sport and the game with a higher profile in this country than it has ever had.
If we can tick all of those boxes I’ll be very happy.