Criticism of World Cup competitiveness misses the point

There has been a lot of social media interaction regarding the ability of the lesser national teams to compete against the big guns at the Rugby League World Cup. The harshest extrapolation being that it's not really a World Cup, when the majority of teams have no chance of winning. We have people on Twitter, who might very well have cheered on four men from Jamaica riding a bobsled down an Olympic run with absolutely no chance of winning, now wanting to deny a squad of men representing that same country the opportunity to partake in rugby league's international showcase.

The gap between the top three rugby league playing nations and the rest is on full display at the moment during the group stages. Australia scored 84 unanswered points against Scotland; Samoa put 72 past Greece; and New Zealand scored 64 against Jamaica. Still, at the end of that game, Jamaica celebrated like they had won Olympic gold, when they crossed for their first ever World Cup try. Tell Jamaica's players and fans that they shouldn't be playing in such a lopsided contest.

And it's not just rugby league that sees the so called "minnows" struggle. Australia keeps sending a football team to the FIFA World Cup with little, if any, chance of making it out of the group stage. In all seriousness, the Socceroos would currently struggle to beat the European teams that failed to even qualify for the World Cup finals. But, you wouldn't deny all the fans, and more importantly, the young aspiring Australian players, the chance to play to their best ability on the biggest stage.

The Rugby World Cup has only ever been won by four different nations and the group stages are littered with gallant efforts from minnow nations in high scoring losses. Not many people are suggesting it shouldn't be celebrated every four years.

I've seen rugby fans mock the relaxed qualification requirements that have seen many players representing the countries of their forebears. The international rugby system has for years seen the one-way traffic of player talent to the stronger nations. It is only recently that the laws have been changed to allow players a greater opportunity to represent the nations of their heritage, if they wish to do so. It will surely lead to a more evenly contested Rugby World Cup.

Sticking with football codes for a moment, there has even been some mocking of the international merits of the tournament from people who are quite clearly AFL fans. Oh, the irony.

The current T20 World Cup cricket tournament has just seen Ireland sneak into the final 12 teams, knocking two-time champions West Indies out of the tournament. No one would have imagined it happening a few short years ago when the Windies themselves were eating minnows for breakfast. International teams only improve through playing against other international teams.

Although it was hard to tell during their opening performance against England, Samoa have improved markedly in recent years through greater participation. Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Ireland, France, Italy and Lebanon have all shown signs of improvement, with the involvement of some top line coaches and players choosing to represent the country of their heritage, no doubt helping. The real battles will be to determine the second team to qualify from each group, with Lebanon toppling Ireland on Monday morning with Fiji to face Italy and PNG to battle the Cook Islands. These more evenly contested games will showcase the kind of passion and effort associated with national representation.

And yes, in the end, the Final will more than likely see England facing Australia or New Zealand, but every player that has pulled on a boot during this tournament will be left with memories and an experience that they wouldn't trade for all the International kudos of baseball's World Series. They will all return to whatever level of rugby league they play, wherever that may be, better for the opportunity they have had and able to pass on the dream to others that they might one day represent their nation in a Rugby League World Cup.

What needs to happen on the back of this tournament is the implementation of a system that sees these sides come together far more regularly. It's not easy, but the recent introduction of the NRL's Rep Round is a step in the right direction, it just needs to be replicated elsewhere to involve more teams. The stronger each national team becomes, the more interesting the tournament will be.

Credibility is a word for the critics, most of whom will never be fans of the game anyway.

And if you're one of those people still not convinced that this World Cup has merit, you'd better not cheer for that Olympic swimmer from Mozambique as he gallantly tries to complete two laps of the pool, only to bomb out of the 100 metre freestyle heats. Surely by the lofty standards of those rubbishing the Rugby League World Cup, that swimmer only makes a mockery of Olympic competition.