ANDREW CHALMERS: The not so Super pantomime

Andrew Chalmers Bradford Bulls chairman

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THE pantomime season came early last week but unfortunately Prince Charming was nowhere to be seen, when Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan gave an extraordinary interview to the BBC.

Among a series of personal opinions being presented as facts without any substantiation, Lenagan was reduced to calling Gary Hetherington and the Leeds club “pantomime villains” in the current power grab by some Super League chairmen.

Even more bizarrely, Lenagan went on to explain that Leeds' difference in view as to the future direction of the sport was actually because they had “run the sport for the past ten years” and Rhinos had now become dismayed at their loss of influence.

He went on to say that “everyone else was is in agreement except Leeds who were only supported by the West Yorkshire mafia. Wow! There are some deep-seated prejudices and insecurities in that lot. Presumably the unanimous opposition of all Championship and League One clubs to the power grab by some Super League outfits, stretches the county boundaries of West Yorkshire to Newcastle, Wales, Cumbria, London and in fact all points of the compass.

Putting my rusty geography to one side, I want to know who then is Don Corleone? Perhaps he’s going to make Lenagan an offer he can’t refuse?

They do say that the first casualty in war is the truth and Lenagan made a number of comments which demand closer scrutiny and examination.

They certainly didn’t get the appropriate level of scrutiny from interviewer Jack Dearden, who had clearly not had an opportunity to do any research whatsoever.

He seemed utterly confused by it all, which of course served to give Lenagan a number of free and uncontested hits.

Dearden actually seemed to be in awe of his respondent continually referring to Lenagan with an unaccustomed deference.

Our sport does need more high-quality, inquisitorial journalism, particularly in TV and on radio but also in the written media.

So it falls on columns like this, to separate the truth from the fiction and the generals from the strike team.

Lenagan’s primary justification for the power grab was that the sport of rugby league had underperformed for the past ten years, the RFL couldn’t run it all effectively or be expected to and everyone apparently knew that.

I didn’t know or think that and nor do I accept that. Before Graham Lowe and I decided to invest in British Rugby League, we did our due diligence, as you would expect.

We actually found that the RFL had generated and were distributing more money into the club game than ever before. I accept that this was due to the impressive £200M TV deal achieved in 2014, but whatever the source, the RFL were in fact doing a good job in generating greater sums for all clubs than ever before.

Now, I am no cheerleader of the RFL and I know our club has had more than our fair share of run ins with the governing body in the past, so I’m not saying that further improvement is not possible, indeed demanded, across all aspects of the sport.

But I am saying at least let’s have some truth in the discussion and some substance and facts.

If under performance is being cited as the cause for revolution, then I am afraid the case is not proven by the facts, that seem to be so elusive to those seeking to grab the power.

There’s another point to be made here. Lenagan and co appear to be so enamoured of the NRL, yet they fail to mention that rugby league in Australia only has one organisation controlling it under one CEO.

In fact the Australian RL went on precisely the opposite journey than Lenagan now promotes, when the CEO of the ARL and the CEO of the NRL were replaced by one merged executive.

They decided that anything else was duplicative and dysfunctional and chose to copy the governance model here in Britain. Yes that does happen.

I think Super League employing a separate CEO is both wasteful and unnecessary, but if the Super League clubs want to spend their own money that way, that is absolutely their prerogative.

I doubt that the majority of the clubs knew they were each going to be £50k worse off when they set off on this journey.

Lenagan also went on to rubbish the scaremongering that this was all about taking money off the Championship and what he insisted on calling Championship 1.

Surely if you are out to win friends and influence people, it’s a good idea to take the trouble to learn the title of the friends you are hoping to persuade to support you. We are called League 1.

Anyway that aside, talk of taking money off us, was, according to Mr Lenagan, media mischief, plain and simple.

Of course interviewer Dearden, failed to challenge Lenagan about his email to Super League last year promoting the conversion of League 1 to a solely amateur status, or indeed his presentation to Championship and League 1 clubs only last month in which he advocated taking £1m per annum off Championship clubs.

Don't worry though because they would give the relegated Super League club £500k back as a parachute payment. As you would expect, both have been roundly dismissed.

Despite Lenagan rather belatedly now attempting to take the high moral ground in leaving the money unaltered, the inconvenient truth is that it is not actually Super League’s gift to vary a settled and binding contract that is in place until the end of 2021.

So, many thanks Lenagan and co for eventually conceding that you can’t change the existing financial distribution to Championship and League 1 clubs.

Next he attempted to persuade us that nobody wanted to see the extended Super League v Championship fixture list in the final quarter of the season, we should follow footballs example where the best played the best all the time, that was the future.

Of course there was no evidence presented to justify this proposition. Well let me predict that this season middle 8s will be the best yet and attendances may well be higher than those achieved in the Super 8s, despite being played in the holiday season for many fans.

Also, the current system actually delivers more best v best than any other method as the Super 8s actually limit matches to the top eight clubs playing against each other.

The alternative proposition would apparently see the reintroduction of the hugely unpopular “loop fixtures” which are artificial, random matches with no competitive imperative other than to generate income from hard pressed fans.

I understand the sport in this country tried and discarded this some years ago. Is this the best that the Super League chairmen can come up with?

Something that has previously failed? Re-introduce an already discredited set of loop fixtures to provide a number of dead rubbers for the middle group of clubs not troubled by the threat of relegation, but already out of the play-off race.

Lastly the Wigan chairman explained that a renewed and strong Super League would generate more money for us all, to trickle down through the sport, although his trickle down actually included the England team – and here was I thinking that international sport was the pinnacle!

My time as chairman of the NZ Rugby League and tenure on the International Federation, must have been waisted.

Another revealing giveaway into the mindset of those small band of chairmen looking to hijack the people’s game.

Given his confidence that Super League will thrive and prosper under the hands-on guidance of the club chairmen, presumably they should have no problem actually committing to maintaining the current per centage spread that currently exists around our sport.

Let the whole sport rise together, or fall together, but don’t let one section flourish at the expense of another.

Funnily enough, when challenged on this privately, Super League clubs expressly resisted this suggestion.

Like the politicians manifesto, support us and we promise to look after you. Yeah, right!

So, when you analyse what some Super League chairmen present as being for the good of the game, it is in fact actually for the good of themselves and only themselves.

Every aspect of it is about providing more protection for existing Super League clubs at the expense of aspiring ones like ours and others.

They now want to interfere with our financial distributions to weaken the very top Championship clubs and render them incapable of taking on the bottom four in Super League.

That is why announcement’s from Robert Elstone that the qualifying system for Super League is dead, is a blatant grab for power, control and authority.

The existing governance rules for the sport provide, quite rightly that issues that affect the whole of the sport are determined by the RFL Board of Directors.

They are independent people who should be beyond influence and who by company law must promote and protect the interests of all shareholders, not a small vested self- interest group, determined to protect their position of privilege and advantage.

The Bulls and all of the clubs outside Super League are emphatically opposed to the non-offer that was arrogantly announced and we all made this position clear to the RFL Board last Friday.

We are not being unreasonable. The clubs are very willing to consider something new but they will not be patronised or dictated to by the poorly thought through half-baked, back to the future proposal of loop fixtures and one up one down which isn’t the solution. It’s just not credible.

Now, can I offer a very warm welcome to our friends from the north east. We were pushed all the way in a memorable game in Newcastle in May, on the eve of the Magic Weekend in front of a lively and vociferous crowd.

The match and the event was a great credit to all concerned and we wish Newcastle well, after this evening of course.

The club has been plugging away for some time in the North East in one guise or other and I know that the community game is flourishing on the banks of the Tyne.

Last week the club pushed York all the way so they clearly have quality across the park, as we ourselves found out.

I did have to check whether Newcastle was still actually on the Tyne given their chief executive Mick Hogan’s public rejection of the separate Super League executive, clearly qualifying the club for inclusion in the West Yorkshire mafia!

Speaking of York, only two weeks to go to the League 1 game of the year. Let’s hope we can produce a game worthy of the billing and a crowd to match.

Thank you for your continued support. See you tonight at Odsal. Kick off is 7.45pm. #jointhestampede