Following its first-ever Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, the RLEF has announced the creation of two new European Championships, beginning in 2023, for the wheelchair and women’s game.
RLEF general manager Chris Thair commented: “It is important that we continue to reflect our members activities and needs. Both the women’s and wheelchair games have grown considerably in the last few years and I’ve no doubt these European Championships will inspire further growth. Wheelchair rugby league is fast, robust and extremely exciting to watch. It also involves some wonderful players who are genuine superstars. Our intention is to bring the action to the forefront and raise the profile of those who play it. England, whose professional clubs launched the very successful women’s Super League in 2017, and France, who continue to have large numbers participating, will start as likely favourites for the 2023 Women’s European Championships.”
Thair added: “The RLEF Congress had over 40 delegates from 21 nations and it was fitting that Turkey’s women’s captain Melike Sahan launched the tournament at the event. She then inspired Turkey to an 18-14 victory over Italy in their inaugural women’s international, watched by a very vocal crowd and all the delegates. Congress helps foster a spirit of togetherness as we all share the same journey.”
RLEF chairman Maurice Watkins noted: “The 2019 Congress was the best we have ever held and for that we give thanks to our staff, led by Chris, and the Turkish Rugby League Association who hosted the event. TRLA president Gurol Yildiz, founder Julian Treu and the whole team were professional, inspiring and have added a great deal to our membership.
“A great deal of time and effort goes into these events, however, it is the outcomes that matter most. A press section was introduced to the RLEF Congress this year and national Turkish television networks such as TRT Sports were present along with council leaders. A speech from legendary Turkish sports commentator and TV host Orhan Ayhan to launch proceedings added to the sense of occasion and ensured the sport was seen by millions on Turkey’s national news.”
Watkins confirmed: “The decisions and talks held will lead to a brighter future. The whole weekend was significant for international rugby league as every single member of the RLEF was either their or involved in a game. On the same day, the United States beat Jamaica, Canada and Latin Heat to win the Americas 9s. Greece defeated Norway to lift the European Championship C trophy and move to the next stage of the World Cup qualification process. Spain played host to a Super League game which broke that competition’s attendance record for a regular season game. Finally, Turkey played their inaugural women’s international before us. There remains a great deal to do but we must also recognise the great strides that have been taken. Everyone is very excited and hopeful about the future of international rugby league.”
A record number of Middle East African nations were represented, with delegates from Cameroon, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria and Palestine present.