Fans will become ‘completely disenfranchised’ – MP lobbies clubs to oppose IMG

James Gordon
Championship Round Seven, Keighley's Brenden Santi, SWPix. Keighley

Photo: Olly Hassell/

In case you haven’t realised, Keighley are opposing IMG’s proposals to re-imagine rugby league.

If you’re sick of hearing about it, you’re not alone. The Cougars owners Kaue Garcia and Ryan O’Neill raise some valid points and they are certainly hammering home their message.

After making the most of multiple media appearances recently, their attention has now turned to lobbying local MPs to raise the issue.

Keighley’s Conservative MP, Robbie Moore, has done his bit to show his support for the cause, ahead of the upcoming local elections.

In his open letter to all rugby league clubs, Moore writes: “The new proposals, which will require a majority of the Rugby League clubs and other stakeholders to vote in favour of, stipulate that a club will not simply move up or down the ranks based purely on ‘pitch‘ performance but a range of criteria.

“I understand the voting rights are weighted to favour Super League clubs, who have two votes each, compared to the one vote that those below the Super League will have. All of this, in my view seems unfair, and a mechanism which I do not believe will have the support of the wider fan base.

“…This means that clubs may receive immunity from relegation based on factors outside of their actual performance on the pitch. This seems completely ludicrous and takes away from the thrill of the sport in which all fans enjoy.

I do believe that there is a real risk of the fan base of Rugby League becoming completely disenfranchised from the sport altogether once they realise that the measurables of their club being promoted or demoted is only as a result of 25% pitch performance and the vast majority, 75% is nothing to do with how well their team did in the match.

“My message to the IMG is simple: these new rules are not fair, and they are not sport. The proposals are highly reminiscent of those put forward in April last year to create a new European Super League in football, plans which quite rightly caused an uproar among fans across the country. Sport needs to be singularly about pitch performance and the IMG’s proposals fly in the face of the basic principles of competition, fairness, and sport.”

The reality of the situation

The aim of the letter is to lobby clubs to gain support in opposing IMG’s proposals.

Fans have already become disenfranchised by the constant chopping and changing of structures, moving the goal posts and endless rule changes that make the finer points of the game almost impossible to follow for the casual supporter.

The glass ceiling created by the licensing system is one of the things that Keighley are trying to oppose, though IMG’s proposals are far greater than what Championship fans had at the start of the last decade – just ask Featherstone.

The licensing system, while it may have had merits if there had been moves made to remove underperforming clubs, caused a culture of sniping between clubs and their fans which the sport has never really recovered from. No longer are most discussions about what happens on the pitch, who has the better players. It’s now about getting one over clubs based on their facilities or the number of empty seats they have.

That is of course partly what Keighley are trying to get at. The problem is, the ship has already sailed. The damage is already done. The new proposals are there to try and rescue rugby league off the slippery slope it finds itself in.

The sport as a full-time professional game is underpinned by broadcast revenue which suffered a 35% decrease at last negotiation, and will be desperate to avoid any sort of decrease again at the end of this year.

Some still wish to chase the possibly unattainable target of being an elite sport with elite professional clubs. There are probably half a dozen clubs that could stand that test currently. They, understandably, want to do what they can to ensure they can get at least another half a dozen to that level to see how far they can take the top level of the game.

Providing stability to attract investment

Moore also writes: “All these non-performance related criteria will have a negative impact on driving either public or private investment into a club. Why would one want to invest in a club whose chance of promotion is significantly reduced due to non-performance metrics?”

When investment is completely focused on-field, it gets you nowhere. Look at the Koukash era at Salford. They plundered plenty of cash on players, yet have done far better since, when they have focused on sustainable growth and sorting out what goes on off the field. David Hughes has sunk endless funds in to London Broncos, what do they have to show for it? They might as well be back in year one.

Rugby league does not encourage investment at the moment because no one has a clue what the structure is going to look like from one year to the next.

Any businessman worth his salt would want to at least get a multi-year plan in place if he was to invest, something which is difficult when you have no idea what the state of play will be.

The 12-year IMG strategy will hopefully correct that, and at least give assurances to those looking to invest.

After all is said and done, can we not just go back to 2004?

READ NEXT: ‘Fake expansion’ and ‘spreadsheet grading’ will ‘kill’ rugby league