World Cup excitement can entice non-RL fans during lockdown, says Simpson

England Wheelchair player James Simpson believes the excitement building up to the 2021 World Cup can help entice sport-starved fans from other sports to get involved with rugby league.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw sport across the world come to a standstill and, despite certain events now slowly starting to return, there is still a noticeable absence of much live action compared to normal.

Simpson, though, thinks that could work in favour of the 13-a-side game, especially on the back of this week’s World Cup training base announcements, which featured several famous faces including footballer Jesse Lingard, Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson, cricketer Michael Vaughan and boxers Tony Bellew and Josh Warrington.

“Obviously rugby league is rugby league and we have our own fans,” he said. “But the videos where you’re getting all these different athletes in from different sports, I think it’ll bring in people who aren’t really rugby league fans but are so desperate to see sport.

“Seeing these footballers and wheelchair athletes tweeting and doing videos to help promote and celebrate this World Cup, people are going to be like, ‘Oh, what’s this?’. It’s going to get them involved in what’s going to be happening over the next couple of years.

“On Wednesday morning, knowing what was going to happen on the day, I woke up feeling like a kid at Christmas. I was so giddy to watch the videos and see how it was going to unfold.

“It’s now less than 500 days away and I know that sounds like a big number but I remember when it was like 1500, and now it’s 500 so it might as well be tomorrow because of how excited I am. I already can’t wait for the next thing to happen down the road.”

Simpson started playing wheelchair rugby league almost a decade ago, after losing both legs and three fingers in an IED explosion while serving in the British Army, and is now an ambassador for next year’s tournament.

It’s a role he’s extremely honoured to have, and one he would have never expected when he first took up the game.

“People probably get bored of me saying this but I started playing this game to get out of the house after getting injured as something to do to pass the time and stay fit,” he added. “I never expected to play for England or become an ambassador.

“The way this sport’s taken me, it’s been crazy. I’ve never expected anything, so to get rewarded in these ways is just phenomenal.

“To get to see what the World Cup’s doing for the wheelchair version of the game is just incredible. Nobody ever thought we’d be playing on the same platform as the men or women.

“I’m a big believer in working hard and making things happen and for years I’ve just played this game hard and done what I can for it, so to be asked to become an ambassador was a pat on the back that I wasn’t expecting.

“I’m really proud of it because I love this game and everything about it, so it gives me a chance to help grow and push it, and show other people why I love it so much.”

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