OPINION: Has Rugby League just made a huge mistake?

Last Monday, Super League clubs voted to not readmit the Toronto Wolfpack.

Their future has been up in the air all year. The coronavirus pandemic put pay to any hope that they could play in Canada.

Then came the reports that Wolfpack players were owed months of their salaries.

Soon after, Toronto announced they would be unable to fulfill any of their remaining fixtures, citing the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this year.

Chairman David Argyle then confirmed he was stepping down after the Wolfpack’s agreement with the Super League had been terminated.

A new owner Carlo LiVolsi stepped forward, but failed with both submissions to the Super League.

All that has culminated in the Wolfpack being kicked out of the Super League.

The Vote

The Wolfpack were defeat by eight voted to four, with one abstention. Credit: RL Photos

The main thing that seemed strange to me was the clubs ultimately voting on another’s future.

It kind of reminded me of when Scottish clubs voted on the future of Rangers when they went into liquidation in 2012.

Along with their Glasgow rivals Celtic, they had a vice-like grip on Scottish football, winning every title since the 80s.

So when they went into liquidation, of course the other clubs voted them out, and they had to start from the bottom of the professional tiers.

You would have to be extremely naive to believe the clubs would vote in any other way, but to protect their own interests.

The clubs who voted for the Wolfpack, Leeds, St Helens and Catalans, are all clubs that are near the top of the table. Is that a coincidence?

Apart from Wigan, all the clubs who voted against the Wolfpack were at the bottom or midtable. If there was a threat they could get relegated, then of course they would vote against that.

I also found it extremely odd that the RFL only got one vote. Surely as the governing body, they should get the deciding say?

The whole thing seemed like a bit of a farce that set Toronto up for failure.

Reports

There have been several media reports since the vote trying to shed light on why Toronto were voted against.

One report suggested new owner Mr. LiVolsi would not provide proof of funds, would not accept more than a two-point deduction and refused to confirm whether or not he would remain if they were relegated.

Another report, which got the Toronto side of things, seemed to suggest he was never asked for proof of funds and had accused the league of playing it safe.

Over the weekend, some details of the incriminating report which seemed to be the final nail of the coffin for the Wolfpack were leaked.

It included concerns over whether or not the Wolfpack would add anything commercially for the Super League. Whilst I understand their scepticism of entering a new market, unless these kind of projects happen, the sport will remain an M62 sport.

Unfortunately, there isnt really another project to refer this to. It truly is unique, and one the sport should have been proud of.

Expansion

Catalans Dragons came into the Super League in 2006, and have since won the Challenge Cup. Credit: RL Photos

Super League has had a lot of failed expansion projects over the last few years.

It all started with Paris St Germain, who were brought in for the inaugral Super League season in 1996.

Their first match against Sheffield Eagles was a roaring success, and it was hoped it could be the start for major European expansion in the sport.

But just a year later, it all came crashing down. President Jacques Fouroux resigned and left the club in hot water.

They managed to stay in the Super League, but a scandal over players not on the correct visas to avoid paying tax, the club was left insolvent.

Then it was Gateshead Thunder. They only played one season in the Super League, and lost £700,000 before merging with Hull Sharks to form Hull FC.

A new club is in League One.

Finally, Crusaders were hoped to bring the sport to the Welsh audience. Like Toronto, they worked their way up the professional leagues before getting to the top tier.

But it was found six players were living the UK illegally and the club was forced to pay £60,000 to the Home Office.

After that, the club went into administration and ended up withdrawing their application for a new licence. Like Gateshead, a new club in now in League One.

The only success was Catalans Dragons, although the goalposts had moved slightly for them.

They were given a stay from relegation for the first three years. Something which allowed them to build a base for their Super League stay. The league was also moving into licencing, something which came in two years later.

The sport has always had a love-hate relationship with expansion, and I wonder whether or not that came into it for Toronto.

Synopsis

The people who I feel sorry for the most are the fans and the players. They dont deserve any of this.

It is not their fault what happened off the pitch and now they are suffering because of Argyle’s previous actions.

Their market as building as well, with 12,000 fans going to the Lamport Stadium to watch their side reach the Super League.

Head Coach Brian McDermott gave an impassioned defence of the club recently. You could hear the emotion in his voice when talking about the decision- which has left him and his entire squad unemployed as of this moment.

In these stories, there is always a perpetrator and a victim. The victims are also largely overlooked.

The Future

I really hope this isn’t the end for rugby league in North America. There are also exciting projects in Ottawa and New York to look forward to as well.

I also hope the vote happened in the way that it did was because of the pandemic. Right at this very moment, it would be impractical to include a North American team when travel between the two is almost impossible at the moment.

Hopefully once the pandemic has settled across the world, we can start the transatlantic process again.

I do hope there can be a North American league one day, but while they are still building the market and interest, why not have them over here?

My dream would be to include America and have a proper World Club Series. Maybe that could happen one day.

2 thoughts on “OPINION: Has Rugby League just made a huge mistake?

  1. In my opinion the decision was right. They couldn’t fulfil there appointments. If this had been a team such as Wakefield,cas Hull kr would there have been any esertation in throwing them out. No I don’t think so.

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