Former Hull chief executive Shane Richardson has called for an overhaul of the British game with the establishment of an independent commission at the heart of it.
Richardson, who served on the board of Super League during his time at Hull and Gateshead Thunder, the club he help found in 1999, says the game in England is so badly fractured and dogged by in-fighting that it is in danger of going part-time, arguing major change must come before the next television deal expires in just over two years’ time.
A widely-respected administrator over three decades at club level in Australia with Cronulla, Penrith and South Sydney, Richardson has submitted a paper with his proposals to the NRL and circulated copies to “two or three” Super League clubs.
It was a fear that those clubs will ignore his plans that prompted Richardson to go public with his concerns.
“The paper I submitted to the NRL about a month ago is about the value of the English game and how it needed to be tied into what we need to do with the international calendar so that we actually have a viable world-wide rugby league to be able to sell to the world of sport,” he said.
“In my opinion it’s fragmented, it’s all over the place, nothing ever ties together and nobody really takes an interest in the totality of the game.”
Richardson points to the “farce” over selection for Friday’s mid-season representative game between England and the Combined Nations All Stars to illustrate his point about the split in the game and says the two governing bodies, Super League Europe and the Rugby Football League, should cede control to a body modelled on the independent commission which now runs the game in Australia.
“Everybody would have to go,” he said. “It has got to start from an independent commission so people can believe they are listened to and the best structure is put in place to make sure it’s commercially viable. It’s not viable under its current fractured state.
“Nine years ago we set up the independent commission (in the NRL) and a structure was put in place where clubs did not control the day-to-day running of the game and where decisions could be made about the betterment of the game.”
Richardson, who is involved in the bid for a 17th team to join the NRL, says outside funding would be required but insists no investors would be interested in getting involved in the English game as it stands now.
While the NRL has evolved, Richardson says the English game has failed to move with the times since he left his role with Hull at the end of the 2001 season.
“I thought the game would grow but it’s gone backwards and the reason for that is that it’s the same model,” he said. “In 21 years there’s been no change. What business in the world goes on without change?
“It makes me sick to the guts to think that the game is going to go backwards at the rate it is.
“Let’s be honest, this game on Friday night is one of the great farces in the world of international sport and you see a team like Huddersfield naming 13 players for a match.
“I reckon you’ve got two years to fix it. If you don’t fix it in two years, I’m not sure where your television deal is going to be.
“You’re going to become a semi-amateur game if you don’t, in the next two years, have a plan in place that you can sell to investors.
“There are people who would invest in clubs if they were more viable. Why would you buy into Super League at the moment the way it is?
“People need to put the egos aside. It’s alright saying ‘I love the game’ but you’re loving it to death.”
One idea from Richardson is to have a 10-team competition based on the needs of television, which he feels should include Newcastle and Wales and two overseas teams, mostly likely from France.
“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “My plan is to start a conversation.”