Rugby League Nines will feature at this year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as an exhibition sport in a move officials hope will lead to players competing for a gold medal in 2018.
Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, England, Wales, Scotland, South Africa, Canada and Jamaica have so far confirmed they will be sending teams for a tournament on June 27 and 28 intended to demonstrate to the Commonwealth Games Federation how Nines is played.
After being recognised as a Tier 3 sport in 2011, the Rugby League International Federation hopes to gain inclusion in the 2018 Games to be staged on the Gold Coast.
NRL integration and game development general manager Andrew Hill said the tournament in Glasgow would feature under-19 teams from Commonwealth nations.
"It is probably the start from an international point of view to looking at doing something on a grander scale," Hill said.
With the host nation able to choose some of the sports played at each Commonwealth Games, there is a possibility that Nines will become a medal sport in 2018 as the Gold Coast is considered rugby league heartland.
However, for that to occur the game will need to gain recognition by the Commonwealth Games Federation as a Tier 2 or optional sport. Tier 1 sports are those played at every Commonwealth Games.
"We are not part of the Commonwealth Games but we are playing as an exhibtion sport," Hill said. "The sport of rugby league has been invited to have an exhibition format. The follow up is the Gold Coast. We are not getting overly excited but it is a step."
RLIF chairman Scott Carter said inclusion in Commonwealth Games would enable the code to broaden its appeal to a bigger audience.
"The sport is increasingly looking at itself as a global game and what does it need to do to get there," Carter said. "There are now quite a few member nations, especially in Europe, and we are mindful of what is on the doorstep in Australia and Australia's ability to help promote the game.
"If you look at where the Commonwealth Games are held next time around then potentially rugby league could be a medal sport at those games. It is possible and there are steps to go through so it was logical for rugby league to be a demonstration sport in Glasgow."
Carter said the RLIF would lobby for promotion to a Tier 2 sport after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
"The game for 100 years has been centred around a small number of nations but despite that it has achieved prominence and the 2008 World Cup in Australia generated some funds to enable us to begin this development work.
"There is now increasing work being done to get more nations on board and part of that whole thinking is around the Commonwealth Games," he said.
"We are moving to a point where the RLIF will appoint fulltime staff this year from the profits of the 2013 World Cup and that is where a lot of time and effort will be put into pursuing these types of strategies."
Meanwhile, NRL chief executive Dave Smith said the Nines tournament in Auckland this weekend may be expanded in future season to include Super League clubs and possibly international teams, with Fairfax Media told that Wigan and Bradford wanted to compete.
"The NRL has a very clear strategy to expand the game and appeal to a much wider market," Smith said. "It is a great game, we want everyone to be involved in it and I think the way New Zealand and Auckland have embraced the Nines shows just how succesful we can be when we try.
"We are committed to staging the Nines in Auckland for three years with a two year further option and I believe the event will get bigger and bigger.
"We have already attracted attention and interest from international clubs who want to be a part of this tournament, we chose not to do that this year but obviously there is a lot of interest and we will sit down with our partners next week and talk about how we can make it bigger."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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