Thursday, 24 April 2014

CZRLA 2013 Season Preview: View from the Boardroom

CZECH RUGBY LEAGUE ASSOCIATION |
7 February 2013

The 2013 Czech Rugby League Board are anticipating a season which will continue the rapid domestic growth of the sport in the country over the last 3 years. This will be evidenced through an expansion in the number of domestic clubs competing across the 2 Divisions once again, increased levels of senior playing, coaching and match official participation levels, as well as some historic junior Rugby League match-ups involving teams of young Czechs from clubs across the country. On the international level, the Czech national team will experience new challenges when it defends the European Bowl it has won for the last 2 years, while the 3rd annual CZRLA International 9s Tournament in Pardubice, and the staging of an inaugural Prague Sports Tours Rugby League 9s and also a Master’s RL Tournament will ensure the sport witnesses increased levels of interaction with the international Rugby League community.

The CZRLA Annual General Meeting will be held in the first weekend of February and the CZRLA Board, in consultation with all of the 10 current Full and Associate Member clubs, will finalise the 2013 domestic program, and specifically the makeup of the 2013 CZRLA 1st and 2nd Divisions. It was decided in 2012 that the CZRLA 1st Division would be expanded to 5 clubs in 2013, the winner of the 2nd Division having the inside running on grasping that position. So impressive have the applications for 1st Division status from 3 of the 5 2012 2nd Division participant clubs been though, that there is now the possibility that the 1st Division will be expanded to 6 or even 7 clubs in 2013. There is also expected to be applications from new clubs for Associate Membership status, which could see them playing rugby league in friendly matches, or even competing in the 2nd Division, as soon as 2013. The format of the 1st Division will remain the traditional home and away model, while the 2nd Division will again be played according to the innovative ‘tourney-style’ Championship, that was so successful in 2012, which involved all clubs playing each other in full 13-aside 30 minute matches at a single venue for each round.. Players from both divisions will again have the chance to represent their respective regions in the 5th annual Czech State of Origin match, where they will also be pressing for births in the Czech national team.

At the international level, 2013 will see the Czech national team defend the European Bowl it has had a stranglehold on for 2 years with comfortable victories over Hungary away in 2011 and at home in Vrchlabi, the home of possibly rugby league’s most uniquely nicknamed team – the Mad Squirrels – in 2012. The Vrchlabi Mad Squirrels Rugby League facility is the first purposely built rugby league playing field anywhere in the developing rugby league world, financed wholly by the club and the local municipality, and is an indication of the serious nature with which rugby league is taking root in the towns and villages of this central European state.

2013 will see the Czech Republic’s national rugby league team competing for the European Bowl against the much sterner opposition of Ukraine and Norway than in previous years. Victory once again in the European Bowl will allow the Czech Republic to move up into the European Shield in 2014, and will then give them leeway to competing in the 2017 World Cup, in line with the RLEF & RLIF’s progressive new system for World Cup participation.

Pardubice will also again be the venue for the 3rd annual CZRLA International 9s, won by Lebanese American University in 2011 and BARLA Youth in 2012. In its 2 years of competition, Pardubice’s International 9s has thus far seen them hosting participants from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Serbia, Lebanon, Norway and the Netherlands, and 2013 has already seen more countries commit to participating in a tournament that radically raises the profile of rugby league in the Czech Republic, ensuring increased levels of both media and general public interest, as well as marked growth in both state funding and corporate partnership arrangements. These have become the foundation stones for the sport’s growth across Europe, but the Czech Republic, like several other European nations, still struggles to overcome prejudices amongst the political elite who refuse to acknowledge Rugby League as anything other than a ‘rebel’ rugby organization. It is anticipated that with Rugby League in the Czech Republic now satisfying all the requirements requested for recognition – and, in turn, funding - from the Czech Sports Association that any officiai denial of there next application will result in a legal challenge in European Union Courts.

2013 will also see increased opportunities for international clubs to assist in the growth of domestic Czech rugby league standards with Prague Sports Tours hosting a 9s tournament in the national capital, Prague, on May 4, and also a Master’s Rugby League tournament on September 28. Any clubs or individuals interested in participating in any of the international tournaments being held in the Czech Republic in 2013 are encouraged to apply for entry via the Czech Rugby League Association at andy.mulhall@rlef.eu.com as quickly as possible as there are only limited places available.