Bradford Bulls co-chairman backs Barwick to breathe life into RFL (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Bradford Bulls co-chairman Gerry Sutcliffe backs Brian Barwick to breathe new life into RFL
Monday night’s Inside Out programme led to plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the world of rugby league.
The BBC television documentary included a suggestion from a sports finance specialist that the game is on the edge of a “financial abyss”.
Rob Wilson, of Sheffield Hallam University, claimed that 11 of the 14 Super League clubs have combined debts of £68.5million.
The programme’s revelations – or rather lack of them – sent rugby league fans into meltdown on Twitter.
But there can be no denying that the sport has endured some tough times in recent months, with the financial problems experienced by Crusaders, Wakefield and the Bulls being followed by a similar crisis at Salford.
The Super League season will begin tomorrow without a title sponsor.
For a sport that commands Sky viewing figures second only to Premier League football, that is damning.
Yet Bulls co-chairman Gerry Sutcliffe believes that yesterday’s appointment of Brian Barwick as the RFL’s new non-executive chairman can breath new life into the way the sport is governed and driven forward.
The Bradford South MP and former Sports Minister said: “Brian Barwick’s appointment is an opportunity to kick-start the progress of the game.
“It’s a new season and a new start, so everybody should be pulling together.
“Let’s look at best practice, let’s look at other sports and let’s make sure we give this wonderful game the opportunity to prosper that it deserves.
“I’ve always been a supporter of widening the game to more people but there is also an issue for the governing body to look at what it can do to grow.
“Super League, as the professional part of the game, is the shop window.
“It’s just worrying to me that the major projects coming up – Super League starts tomorrow and the World Cup is on the horizon – have no sponsorship in place.
“But I don’t think we should be defensive about the game. We should go out on the attack and we’ve proved it here by the fact that we’ve pushed people and not only secured the Provident sponsorship deal but others too.
“I wouldn’t say we’re perfect, by a long shot, but you can feel the momentum around the club. You can feel things moving, so if we can do it, why can’t they do it at the top?
“The question is – and as a former Sports Minister, this applies to every sport – what can be done better to improve our sport?”
Sutcliffe feels the success of cycling can provide the blueprint for rugby league to start punching its weight.
He said: “Cycling went right to the bottom and back to basics. British Cycling and local authorities worked together to improve cycle lanes and cycle runs to get more people cycling.
“Dave Brailsford came in and turned the sport around. He looked for every little inch of improvement so now we’re world leaders in terms of cycling.
“Getting the Tour de France to Yorkshire is just fantastic and it showed it can be done. Rugby league has to show that same ambition.”
Sutcliffe is working hard alongside owner Omar Khan as the Bulls continue to rebuild from the wreckage of administration last year.
“We felt a bit aggrieved because of what happened to us in terms of trying to lead the club out of administration,” said Sutcliffe.
“But we’re just putting all that to one side and dealing with it now, as proved by getting Provident on board as sponsors.
“I actually think that puts us in a good place with the RFL where we can say ‘we’re doing it, why can’t other clubs do it as well?’
“I hope Brian Barwick can work with the clubs and the fans to really drive the sport forward in this World Cup year.”
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