The board of European Rugby League has expressed its huge sadness after the peaceful passing of their chair, Maurice Watkins CBE, at his home in Cheshire, aged 79 from prostate cancer.
He joined the ERL board as chair in July 2012 replacing Richard Lewis, and has overseen the growth of the federation from 23 to 42 members covering Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and Central America and the Caribbean, with more than ever before ranked as full and affiliate.
One of the UK’s best-known sports lawyers and a long-time director of Manchester United, during his ERL tenure the volume of international rugby league being played by confederation members increased exponentially.
Additionally, Maurice served as a director of the Rugby Football League in England for 12 years until 2014, during which time he led a comprehensive review of the sport.
He also served on the boards of Lancashire County Cricket Club, British Swimming and the British Basketball Federation as well as a host of non-sports related charities, leading the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity’s new build appeal and raising £20m. He was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2011 for his services to charity.
On behalf of the ERL board, Graeme Thompson commented: “Maurice provided great experience in his role, which our organisation massively benefited from. His strong legal career provided great guidance on many matters, governance was another key area he led on.
“His reputation in the sport’s world was high and having him as our chair brought us credibility and the ability to develop new partnerships. The initial relationship with the European Union was due to his extensive network and reputation.”
Thompson added: “All our general managers benefited from his wisdom and mentoring, which was always delivered in such a supportive manner. His board colleagues enjoyed the same and appreciated his kindness and the generosity of time he gave to everyone.
“He was fine company with a good and sharp sense of humour and was proud to be the chair of ERL – he loved the culture of the federation and greatly admired the work that all the nations made, in a collective manner, to develop the sport.”
“It is a very sad day, none more so than for his family who are uppermost in our thoughts. We have been fortunate to have had Maurice play a major role in our journey and we will always be grateful for that and remember his unstinting contribution accordingly.”