It is perhaps unsurprising that, on occasion of her 90th birthday, The Queen has stood down as patron of many charities and organizations to reflect her advancing age. One such organization being the Rugby Football League.
There will be those who will ask what The Queen ever did for the Rugby Football League during her years as patron and this is a perfectly reasonable question. For all her years on the throne, I can only remember her attending one game. Whilst there will be those who may look through politically charged glasses and complain about this, it should be noted that Windsor and Sandringham are not exactly Dewsbury and Featherstone. For those who did not grow up within the North of England, there is less opportunity to build up a natural affinity for the game. It could be argued that those born into the upper classes are unsuitable for the patronage for a traditionally working class game but the need for the sport is to improve its profile so over to one of the most profile young men in the world.
Prince Harry's connection with rugby union is well known and this will be cited by some on internet forums as reason enough to make him unsuitable but that is rather insular. He also attended Eton and had years in the Army, two institutions that have hardly been friends to Rugby League over the years. But here he is, a high profile young man who seems genuinely interested in sport generally. The Invictus games have been a great success and maybe some of that success can rub off.
Rugby League is a sport of the working class and does see itself as something of an anti-establishment game, with good historical reasoning. The sport has to move with the times however and cannot continue to use historical grievance for a lack of progress. Rugby League actually leads the sporting world in many areas with rugby union invariably about five years behind, think video referee or TMO as they rather bizarrely call it!. There is also the small matter of a rugby world cup (wonder who thought of that first?) The other area it leads on is the sheer quality of the athletes on show. I defy anyone to show me a better all round athlete than Jonathan Thurston, for example. The hope needs to be that whoever the patron is, they need to be someone who can help expose this high quality sport and outstanding athletes to the world.
For all the potential benefits of having HRH as patron, it should be noted that he really has to play his part too. If he is not seen to be active, the cynicism will kick in. No one should expect him to be a season ticket holder at Headingley or elsewhere but people will expect him to patronise this sport as he has others. His Auntie seems to do a very good job for the Scottish Rugby Union.
The link between Rugby League and the upper classes is not a natural one perhaps but it is now time to pull any such barriers down. We would not use race, gender or religion as barriers so lets look forward and not back. I, for one, would like to see Rugby League played on the fields of Eton and Harrow, just as it is in Wigan and St Helens. Maybe Prince Harry can arrange that for us?
The ball is in your court Prince Harry, please use it well.