Exciting times ahead for RLEF, says Watkins

Rugby League European Federation chairman Maurice Watkins has hailed another robust year of strategic growth following a Board Meeting in Leeds. 

Six months into the role, Watkins lauded the RLEF’s role in expanding the sport’s frontiers and increasing participation numbers, while at the same time strengthening its affiliated organisations.

“Strategically, the RLEF continues to contribute to the changing face of international rugby league with 2012 witnessing the launch of the West Africa project in Ghana, as well as a number of budding national projects in Europe,” he said.

Rugby League International Federation secretary Andrew Hill, who is in the UK on world cup business, also addressed the RLEF Board for the first time. “There is a great deal of interest in the Asia-Pacific region about all the work that the RLEF has undertaken in the northern hemisphere in the last couple of years,” said Hill, a senior NRL official.

“The RLEF has demonstrated that substantive progress is possible and I think it’s fair to say that everybody involved in the Asia-Pacific Confederation is keen to work hard on a new chapter of international development. No one embodies this attitude more than ARLC chairman John Grant, who absolutely feels that international football must be the pinnacle of our sport.”

In 2012, Russia and Ukraine tripled the number of matches played compared with the year before. Russia has emerged from a number of years of instability and is poised to re-apply for government recognition again this year. The Czech Republic more than doubled its domestic activity as did Ireland, Jamaica and Serbia. Ukraine and Jamaica both achieved full government recognition in 2012, while Serbia and Lebanon received considerable funding increases from their respective sports ministries.

“Governance is a critical sector as National Governing Bodies grow and begin to engage more regularly with public and private stakeholders, locally and regionally,” continued Watkins, who authored the Watkins Report on RFL governance last year.

“It is vitally important for all sport governing bodies to demonstrate best practice in the governance sector and I am pleased to say that the RLEF is taking its leadership role in this area particularly seriously.”

Those encouraging advances prompted Jamaica (JRLA) and Russia (ARLKR) to apply for Full Membership, with both applications accepted by the Board. The duo will seek equivalent RLIF status later this year. From the MENA region, United Emirates National Rugby League was accorded Observer status.

The RLEF directors elected new French Federation president Carlos Zalduendo as vice chair. He emphasised the need for active French involvement in the RLEF and the need for a stable, regular European Cup.

“This year we will be able to congratulate a new European Shield winner and also a world champion, with the 2013 Rugby League World Cup now less than a year away,” concluded Watkins. “Exciting times ahead and I look forward to another successful year for the RLEF.”

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