To say that rugby is a popular sport in the United Kingdom, at this point, is a little bit of a dramatic understatement. In the United States, you have the big three: baseball, football and basketball. Very few sports are able to see that type of penetration, as hockey fans will no doubt tell you. In the United Kingdom, the sports climate is totally different. People don’t care about American football. They want rugby and they want as much of it as possible.
As of 2018, there are more than 279,000 adults in England participating in the rugby union. Some 67,200 of them participate in the rugby league. In Ireland alone, there are 194,000 players. Nearly half of all male secondary school students engage in the sport. Even 14 percent of children play on a monthly basis. The list goes on and on.
One of the most prized possessions in all of rugby is the Rugby League World Cup trophy, which, sadly, had been missing for more than 20 years. It was actually stolen from a hotel in Bradford just before the 1970 competition and it remained lost for decades. It was replaced, of course, but that original cup seemed gone forever, until someone found it in a ditch in nearby Bingley during the 1990s.
The Rugby League World Cup will never go missing again
Once that original cup was found, it immediately underwent a pretty lengthy restoration that has only recently finished up. It will go on public display for the first time ahead of the 2021 tournament, which is being hosted by England.
During that restoration, two major modifications were made. First, a missing cockerel that used to be on top of the cup was replaced. The cockerel was broken off at some point after the cup was stolen and is indeed the only part of the original prize that was unable to be recovered. The new cockerel was intended to closely mirror the original one, but with an updated design. This work was undertaken by the trophy makers at Fattorini, who also hold the distinction of creating the original Rugby League Challenge Cup and the original FA Cup.
The second modification involves another unique use of one of the best things that modern technology has to offer: GPS tracking. Joe Dutton, the chief executive in charge of organizing the tournament, said that they’re not taking any chances with either the recovered cup or their beautiful new cockerel. In a statement given to the BBC, he said that “we’ve incorporated a GPS tracker — a device they obviously didn’t have available to them in the ’70s. We may never know where the World Cup went during its two missing decades, but we will always know where it is.”
Interestingly, that real-time GPS information isn’t being kept behind (virtual) closed doors. That information is funneled directly onto a website that rugby fans all over the world can log into. At any moment, you too can see exactly where the cup is via a tracking website, thus taking a bad situation and turning it into a fun, immersive opportunity in an instant.
Many sports historians agree that the loss of the original trophy back in 1970 is one of the saddest tales in that chapter of rugby history. However, it’s a story that has a (thankfully) happy ending. Not only does the new cockerel mark the beginning of a new era, but even in the event that the cup is ever stolen, it can quickly be recovered again like nothing ever happened.
Even as recently as 10 years ago, this type of thing would have been unthinkable. Yet not only is the cup safe and sound forever, but organizers are also using it as an opportunity to bring fans further into the conversation by way of the tracking website. When you consider how far GPS tracking technology has come in just a few years and the many interesting uses it has brought with it, it’s truly fun to think about what the next few might have in store.