A lifelong love affair with rugby league which started after being taken to watch Leigh as a child has led to Jon Dutton being the man overseeing preparations for next year’s World Cup.
The RLWC2021 chief executive grew up watching the likes of Des Drummond and John Woods from the terraces of the club’s former Hilton Park home, witnessing the Leythers’ 1982 title triumph and the visit of the all-conquering Australian tourists in the same year.
Now in his 42nd season supporting Leigh, Dutton still goes with his family to watch them in the Championship at the Sports Village – one of the venues which will play host to next year’s global gathering.
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“My dad took me when I was five years old and I grew up watching Leigh at Hilton Park,” Dutton told Sky Sports. “I can still remember Leigh winning what has now become Super League way back in 1982 and I love the sport.
“I always wanted to play professionally, but I was never good enough or brave enough, so I guess my job now is not a bad second option to have. The sport has played a massive part in my life and I’m privileged to be doing the job I am.
“For me, this is a great opportunity to celebrate some of the great moments I’ve had in sport. The athletes are just remarkable and we’ve got a great chance to put them on a global stage, and for it not to just be about the men’s elite athletes.”
Leigh Sports Village is one of 21 venues which the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups will be played at when the respective tournaments get underway in October 2021.
My dad took me when I was five years old and I grew up watching Leigh at Hilton Park
While 80 per cent of matches will be played in the North of England, places such as Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, plus the Emirates Stadium and the Copper Box Arena in London – which will host a men’s semi-final and the wheelchair competition respectively – will be utilised too.
Closer to rugby league’s heartlands places more associated with football like Middlesbrough and Newcastle will host matches as well, the latter hosting the opening match between England and Samoa at St James’ Park – a regular venue for Super League’s Magic Weekend.
Next year will mark the first time the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments will take place alongside each other, while nations such as first-time qualifiers Brazil, Norway, Greece and Jamaica will add an extra dimension across all three.
“One of the very early decisions was to stage the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments together on the same platform at the same time, which is something which has never been done before,” Dutton said.
“We’ve got some wonderfully exciting teams like Brazil in the women’s tournament, Norway playing in the wheelchair tournament, and Jamaica and Greece in the men’s tournament along with the Pacific nations.
“We know not everybody wants to play rugby league and that’s fine, but it’s about using the tournament to inspire people to make a positive impact on people’s lives and for it to be much more than everyone congregating to watch rugby league games.”
All the teams taking part will be embedded in the communities they are staying in before and during the tournament, with school visits and open training sessions planned to inspire the next generation of players and supporters.
Dutton is keen for the next World Cup to make an impact beyond the rugby league world as well, with the tournament’s mental fitness charter, launched in January with Prince Harry, designed to build on the work the sport has already done in this area.
Programmes for people dealing with dementia and loneliness, along with arts events and a choir designed to ensure the 2021 Rugby League World Cup leaves a long-lasting legacy in all walks of life.
“We are very conscious we only exist as an actual tournament for five weeks, so we are a temporary vehicle,” Dutton said.
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