RFL row: Q&A
Ian Laybourn looks at the background to the current row engulfing rugby league.
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What is the background to the row?
The Rugby Football League's former caretaker chairman Maurice Watkins was asked a year ago to undertake a policy review in light of falling attendances and declining revenue to examine ways to improve the game and make it more marketable. and the return of promotion and relegation was seen as a key element of the proposed shake-up. Clubs in Super League, the part-time Championship and the community game were all given their say as part of a year-long consultation process.
So what sparked the row?
Plans to restructure the domestic game were due to come to a head at an extraordinary general meeting in Leeds on Wednesday. The Championship clubs voted by 15 to one in July for two divisions of 12 from 2015, with the restoration of automatic promotion and relegation. It was thought the Super League clubs had also backed the plan but murmurings of discontent surfaced and then broke out into open opposition at a meeting on Monday called by Wigan owner Ian Lenagan and they decided to put pressure on the RFL to postpone the EGM.
So it is all about the number of clubs in Super League?
No, the issues run much deeper and can almost be seen as a power struggle. In a letter to his Super League colleagues on the eve of Saturday's Grand Final, Lenagan complained of the "relative importance of Super League" in the policy review, arguing that, as Super League clubs brought most money into the game, they ought to be allowed to say how it is spent. He is particularly aggrieved that there is no Super League representation on the RFL board of directors, who are independent of clubs.
Does this amount to an attempted breakaway?
Lenagan insists not, although he would clearly like more power for the Super League clubs and believes the RFL has missed glaring media and marketing opportunities, particularly in the build-up to the World Cup. Super League has not received any sponsorship money for the last two years.
What are the ramifications for the RFL and where does it leave the Championship clubs?
At best, the episode is an embarrassment, at worst an effective vote of no-confidence in RFL chief executive Nigel Wood and chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer, who were both pushing for the restructuring. There is a feeling of helplessness among the Championship clubs, who feel disenfranchised by the whole affair.
What happens next and does this mean there will no longer be a return of promotion and relegation?
Whatever happens, the licensing system which was introduced six years ago seems doomed and there will be some form of promotion and relegation, most likely from 2015. The RFL says the issue has been put on the back-burner until after the World Cup, which runs until the end of November, but there will doubtless be several behind-closed-doors meetings of Super League bosses in the meantime.