Funding gap puts Poland's debut on ice
WARSAW (AFP) –
Poland’s dreams of making their international rugby league debut are on ice after a funding gap meant they had to call off plans for a match with Hungary.
“We’ve had to cancel the trip to Hungary, and are likely to take another look at this issue next year,” the squad’s founder Lukasz Lucka told AFP on Wednesday.
“The team are pretty disappointed, and it’s not good for morale. We really need a game to keep up the players’ motivation for training,” half-back Lucka said.
Carved from their country’s only rugby league club – the Magpies, set up last year in the central city of Lodz – the newborn national team had been planning to face Hungary on Saturday.
Calling off the match is a blow to Poland’s hopes of playing a role part in rugby league’s expansion in continental Europe, as the sport’s authorities try to spread it from its heartlands of Australasia, northern England and the south of France.
Unbowed, Lucka said they were already thinking of a new way to enter the international arena.
“We’re now eyeing a trip in February, and there’s a chance that we could go to Italy,” he said. “But that’s still far away and no final decision has been made.”
Even though the Hungary game was off, the team are hopeful of attracting local and even international sponsors after a flurry of emails in the wake of an AFP report on their financial problems earlier this month.
The Magpies and Poland, essentially the same squad, insist that they have no pretence to become big on the rugby league scene but simply want to enjoy a sport that Lucka only discovered last year.
The Magpies made history for 13-player rugby league in July, taking on the visiting Pioneers, a team of British and Irish student players.
They lost 98-0, 82-0 and, playing as Poland, 158-0, but said they were glad of the experience and keen to test themselves at full international level.
They are based in a tough district of Lodz – a fitting nod to rugby league’s working class roots – and are made up of players in their late teens and early twenties who had never picked up a rugby ball before.
They are shoestring operation, playing in kit donated by Australian clubs.
Three clubs are needed to form a Polish national association which can then join the Rugby League European Federation.
Traditional rival rugby union was brought to Poland by the French in the 1920s.
While that 15-player code draws only a few thousand players in a nation of 38 million, its boasts three amateur divisions and a national team in Europe’s third tier.