Jon Wilkin slams ‘archaic’ voting system that excludes Catalans Dragons

James Gordon
Jon Wilkin

Photo by Craig Thomas/News Images

Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin says the system that meant Catalans couldn’t vote in the recent IMG decision is ‘archaic’.

Despite their 18 year presence in Super League, the Dragons were not permitted to vote on the proposals tabled by IMG to introduce a grading system back to the top flight.

This was because they are not members of the Rugby League Council, empowered by the RFL to vote on decisions relating to the game.

French rivals Toulouse were also not permitted a vote, but West Wales Raiders – who pulled out of League 1 on the eve of the 2023 season – were.

Seven representatives of the community game were able to vote, together with the UK-based clubs from the three professional leagues.

Wilkin was asked on The Verdict what he thought about Catalans coach Steve McNamara’s comments following their win at home to St Helens last week.

McNamara leapt passionately to the defence of French rugby league, smarting following their double humbling at the hands of England in the recent mid-season international.

The Dragons put on a show on and off the pitch, including the extraordinary pre-match incident where a bull got loose on the pitch forcing players from both sides to run for cover.

Wilkin told Sky Sports: “I think Steve McNamara was talking about the indifference there is to having Catalans in Super League.

“The Dragons are one of the most visible and beautiful assets the game has. For people who haven’t travelled, get to the south of France.

“Last week was a great advert for what Catalans Dragons have brought to the competition. Steve McNamara is asking the game to sit up and take note of what they’ve done.

“Catalans don’t get a vote because of some archaic, political nonsense that means they aren’t part of the Rugby League Council.

“Sometimes we’re dismissive of Catalans, and growing outside of the M62, and we’re scared of doing things.

“We don’t need to be scared of Catalans Dragons being part of our competition.”

EXPLAINED: How the club voting process for IMG’s proposals will work

The need for France

During their time in Super League, Catalans have set the record for the attendance at a single match – when they faced Wigan at the Nou Camp in 2019.

They finished top of the table in 2021, reaching their first ever Super League Grand Final, and they made history in 2018 when they became the first non-English team to win the Challenge Cup.

Question marks have been raised over the presence of French teams in the RFL pyramid as part of the consultation process held by IMG following their 12-year strategic agreement with the governing body to take the game forward.

Some club owners are unhappy that French sides take central funding out of the game, which ultimately derives from the UK broadcasting deal with Sky Sports.

The lack of a French broadcast deal, and sponsors directly relating to the presence of French sides, has also been cited as reasons why they shouldn’t be included.

But when IMG issued their first set of recommendations, they stated that there would be a place for a ‘maximum’ of two French sides for the forseeable future.

Former England captain Jamie Peacock called last week for Toulouse to be re-instated to Super League, and even that a third French side should be looked at to help the progress of the French national team.

France’s 64-0 drubbing at the hands of England in both the men’s and women’s internationals recently has once again caused debate and frustration over the lack of a competitive test for England, as they look to bridge the gap to the likes of Australia and New Zealand.

READ NEXT: It’s what SL is about: Catalans win over St Helens ‘huge’ following a bad moment for French rugby league