IT’S worrying when you agree with a politician – but don’t turn away, this is about rugby league not politics!
Labour Shadow Cabinet member and MP for Leigh (and I presume a supporter of Championship team the Centurions – well he won’t want to offend potential voters) Andy Burnham has sent an open letter to the RFL calling for an end to the ‘closed shop’ of the Super League and a return of automatic promotion and relegation. He’ll get my vote.
The current system sees clubs bidding for a licence to play in the Super League every three years. It’s open to anyone, like the Ritz Hotel. In theory any club can apply but the odds are stacked in favour of the 14 in place.
Widnes Vikings moved up this season replacing Crusaders, who after being fast-tracked by the mandarins of the RFL disappeared into their own overdraft.
The Vikings have struggled and are down at the bottom of the league with the game’s sick-list regulars London Broncos. The theory goes with no fear of relegation for three seasons Widnes have the chance to adjust and establish themselves in the competition.
What rubbish – that’s just the self-interest of those inside an exclusive club that keeps the lion’s share of the game’s resources for themselves.
Rugby league (although the men in suits at the RFL seem to have forgotten this) is still a sport and competition is the key. Denying clubs and their supporters the right to live the dream of reaching the summit of your sport is counterproductive.
The RFL love to go on about attendances (and the TV audience) rising for the Super League but the rest of the professional game is drifting in the doldrums. There’s nothing wrong with the rugby on offer – as the Sheffield Eagles-Batley Bulldogs game showed last week. What’s missing is the feeling that you are playing for something more than the right to polish a trophy for the next 12 months.
Winning the Championship Grand Final should bring automatic promotion. Okay, the promoted team may struggle in the Super League and we may get yo-yo clubs but has that stopped supporters watch Sheffield’s football teams?
The current system is smothering the game – we need change and fast. There’s a case for a Super League reduced to 12 clubs and introducing a second mainly full-time division (Super League 2) of similar size but with a much lower salary cap.
That would smooth the process of moving to the top tier and soften the blow for the relegated club. It would make it easier to introduce a second French club into the UK game.
Automatic promotion and relegation is cruel (maybe not as cruel as a penalty shootout?) but it’s about winning and losing and surely that’s what sport is all about. As Aussies like to say - second is the first of the losers.
If you want to add your name to Andy Burnham’s open letter you can do so at the email link firstname.lastname@example.org