RLWC2021: Making a difference through a social impact legacy programme

Each month ConnectSport works with the Sport for Development Coalition to create a monthly theme. During March 2020, we focus on the social impact of major events and here Jon Dutton, CEO of Rugby League World Cup 2021 (RWLC2021) , looks at the plans and preparations for next year’s tournament. Jon will also join us for a Twitter takeover on Monday 30th March (8-9pm) – join in live on the evening at the hashtag #SportForDevelopmentCoalition.

When we first set out on our journey five years ago, our collective vision was clear: to stage the biggest and best ever Rugby League World Cup, that would not only put the sport on a global stage but would also be a commercial success.

If I stand back and look at what we’ve achieved so far in terms of visibility, awareness and credibility, the results are already something for us to be proud of.

The recent draw, conducted at Buckingham Palace by the Rugby Football League’s patron, the Duke of Sussex, was a brilliant day for all involved and for the sport itself.

With global media interest at a high, the event resulted in front-page national newspaper coverage and created a momentous buzz around the tournament.

This welcome boost of interest and excitement will help lead us towards our goal of being the most attended and viewed Rugby League World Cup in history.

However, our vision has always been so much more than just ticket sales and viewing figures. 

For us, the true value of what we do is in inspiring both existing and new generations of people to engage with the sport, whilst delivering genuine and long-lasting impact to the communities we work with.


In my view recent, major sporting event organisers have failed to demonstrate the real human impact and tangible social benefit these events can deliver.

Undoubtedly these effects are less straightforward to measure than quantitative metrics such as ticket sales and awareness, making it hard for major event organisers to truly assess their contribution to society. As a result, the numbers presented are sometimes questionable.

We want to tackle this challenge head on, by setting out to deliver demonstrable, positive impact on people’s lives whilst addressing social mobility, particularly in so-called ‘hard to reach’ communities.

We have designed our InspirationALL legacy programme with this in mind, implementing a number of key initiatives that go beyond the sport itself.

Our legacy programme has a strong focus on health and resilience, which is why we became the first major sports event to deliver a mental fitness charter. We also have an exciting cultural programme under development that will include dance, choirs and storytelling.

On an international level, we’re staging a series of community competitions in July 2021. This Festival of World Cups will involve the armed forces, emerging nations, masters, schools and people with physical and learning disabilities.

In addition, through our International Development Programme, we’re setting out to engage with, and up-skill people from 16 nations, through workshops and business networking events.

The exam question for both us, and for rights-holders going forward, is how we quantify the use of public and private funds for programmes such as ours.


To demonstrate the tangible impact of our work we have recently collaborated with UK Sport and Sport England to appoint consultants, The Sports Consultancy and Substance, to help develop a ‘theory of change’ model.

This model will give us a methodology by which to measure the real social benefit. The focus will be across the breadth of the InspirationALL programme and will not be exclusively centred on increasing participation in the sport. People, pride and place will be at the very core.

We don’t have all the answers. However something which we have tried to do since we started this journey is learn, adapt and share. We’ve been to a variety of events and will continue to do so until the first ball is kicked in Newcastle on October 23, 2021. We’ve agreed partnerships with the likes of the Netball World Cup, where we’ve shared knowledge across teams to ensure we learn whatever we can.

While we have a significant knowledge transfer programme, we will welcome sharing our experience with rights-holders and those looking to truly make a difference in working with local communities.


You might have seen that The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry recently announced RLWC2021 as the first global sporting event to launch a Mental Fitness Charter, with an aim to educate every player, team official, match official, team-mate and volunteer to look after their own mental fitness and of those around them, as well as delivering mental fitness workshops to 8,000 young Rugby League players and their parents.

To help us deliver on our commitment we’re delighted to be working with Movember, who have become our Official Mental Fitness Partner. They will deliver the ‘Ahead of the Game’ initiative, a programme which is focused on improving youth mental fitness through community sport.

Working with community Rugby League clubs across the country, ‘Ahead of the Game’ will be presented to young athletes, parents and coaches. The aim is to improve the mental resilience in adolescent athletes and raise mental fitness literacy and awareness amongst players, parents and coaches. Movember will also help to create a post-tournament legacy plan to ensure the impact of the Mental Fitness Charter is felt long after the final whistle.

Clearly there is a lot to do over the next 19 months, but I believe we have set ourselves up for success by designing the InspirationALL programme in a way that can be measured effectively, while also setting the benchmark for the major sporting events sector in the years ahead.

Looking to the future, I believe all sporting events will be measured not just by commercial success, but by the social impact they make on local and global communities, the difference they make to the sport and the legacy they leave behind.

To find out more, visit rwlc2021.com/InspirationALL