Like most fans I’ve never been one to hold back from criticising the RFL throughout my time as a rugby league supporter. When licensing was first introduced I argued for promotion and relegation; when the Crusaders were chosen for Super League I continually attacked the RFL’s decision; and most recently I’ve taken issue with the RFL and the RLIF for allowing players like Danny Brough to switch international allegiance at will.
Yet over the last year or so I’ve found myself sounding frighteningly like an apologist for the RFL, and I seem to spend an increasing amount of time thinking that they’re unfairly condemned for matters very much beyond their control.
The most recent situation for which those at Red Hall have taken an unfair degree of blame was today’s shambolic Tetley’s Challenge Cup draw. For those who didn’t listen this afternoon BBC Radio 5Live presenter Richard Bacon conducted the draw in a very unprofessional manner, making silly mistakes like drawing number 6 and saying number 9, referring to Workington as “Woking”, forgetting he had drawn Widnes away at “Woking” and announcing it was Hull KR, and so on.
It’s understandable that fans were annoyed – the whole thing was cringe worthy from start to finish. There was the apology for interrupting the show for the draw, his appraisal of the trophy – “two rugby players looking incredibly camp” – and his interjection near the end – “if you’re just tuning in and wondering what the hell’s going on…”. Words like disrespectful and unprofessional have been bandied about, but with good reason.
Yet it’s hard to see why this is the RFL’s fault. They rightly arranged for the cup draw to be broadcast on national radio, only see the event made a mockery of by the presenter.
People have criticised the RFL for allowing Bacon to conduct the draw, but did they necessarily arrange for it to be on his show? Even if they did, how were they to know he’d behave like a eight year old that needs a good slap? People have criticised the RFL for not arranging for the draw to be made live on TV (criticisms that often come complete with a witty remark like “simples” or “end of”), but if the BBC don’t want to do it then the RFL can’t force them. Remember the BBC can’t even bring themselves to broadcast the Super League Show nationally without doing it as a repeat at some odd hour of the night.
But more often than not the criticisms haven’t been coherent enough to voice a reason for laying the blame at Red Hall. “Draw was a proper farce well done RFL no wonder we look like amatures”, went one analysis. “Never thought the rfl could get any lower. Worst draw I have ever heard. Get a grip rfl”, suggested a keen observer of media relations. “why do you continue to set our game up to look stupid?”, went yet another inquiry. There was similar outrage about RFL incompetence a few weeks ago when the cup draw was removed from 5Live schedules to make way for coverage of Margaret Thather’s death; now the RFL are incompetent because the draw was on 5Live.
We had the same situation for last season’s Autumn Internationals, where the RFL received the blame for, among other things, the one-sided scorelines and general lack of excitement. Yet what are they supposed to do when the Australians and New Zealanders don’t want to play – snap their fingers and conjure up competitive international opponents?
The RFL also recently took the blame for the World Cup broadcasting rights, in which England games and selected others will be shown on the BBC and the rest on Premier Sports. It’s not the best deal, but it’s certainly far from the worst – yet from the reaction you’d think the RFL had deliberately set out to sabotage their own tournament by banishing the majority of games to some distant corner of TV land, not that Sky had withdrawn their interest and the RFL had to make the best of a bad job.
There are always legitimate issues that rugby league fans might complain about, even moan about. Yet all too often supporters of this game seem to go through the season in perpetual outrage, always on the lookout for incompetence, ineptitude and conspiracies to destroy the game / northern clubs / lower-league clubs / their club. Maybe perpetually lacking a sense of perspective should be referred to as the rugby league disease.
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