Sheffield Eagles Director and former RFL President John Whaling has issued a statement expressing his concern over the RFL’s commitment to Rugby League in South Yorkshire.
Both Sheffield Eagles and Doncaster were crowned Champions of their respective divisions this season.
The statement is as follows:
For the first time in the history of Rugby Football League South Yorkshire won both the Co-Operative Championship Grand Finals. This is a major achievement for an area which is not RFL heartland and therefore, it is extremely disappointing that neither club has received any recognition of the achievement from The Rugby Football League.
When Leeds won the Superleague Grand Final from 5th in the league the press was full of the fact that it is not first past the post it is the Grand Final winners who are the Champions yet the RFL put out a press release congratulating Featherstone and Doncaster on their League success but fail to congratulate Sheffield and Doncaster on becoming Champions, what really matters?
When our Director, John Whaling, handed over the President’s chain to Jim Hartley he made the following statement to the RFL Council:
When we reformed Sheffield Eagles just over 12 years ago we did it because we wanted to keep rugby league alive in our city. Mark and Brian Aston, Ian Swire, Ian Anniss and myself all had a passion for the game and the city and we were lucky that we were able to keep the sport alive in Sheffield therefore, it has been a bonus and a honour for both the club and myself that I have been President for the last 12 months and that this has opened up opportunities for me to further promote the sport in South Yorkshire.
I managed to get both Sheffield Eagles and Doncaster Rugby League Clubs to do a joint sponsorship deal with a charity called Autism Plus. Both clubs gave the sponsorship free of charge, put the Autism Plus logo on their playing kit and each dedicated a game to the charity this season. This link enabled me to get the two clubs and the charity onto the Sky Sports Boots N All programme, a programme which is usually just for Superleague clubs. This exposure has helped both clubs and the charity.
I was disappointed when South Yorkshire was not awarded a game for the 2013 world cup, we are the closest county to the heartland and I feel we don’t always get the help we deserve to promote the game in South Yorkshire however we will continue to do our best to spread the word.
It is therefore doubling disappointing that South Yorkshire continues to be a forgotten land. What do we have to do to get recognition?
When it was announced that there would be a mini round of licensing in the wake of the Bradford Bulls troubles the press release said it would involve Leigh, Halifax and Featherstone, why was this when Sheffield Eagles had also earned the right to apply for Super League status by virtue of making it to the 2011 Grand Final? When we queried this with the RFL we were told ‘failure to mention Sheffield is probably as a result of journalists errors rather than a proper assessment of which clubs might be a candidate for any mini-licensing process’ however when we queried it with the press we were told it was exactly as sent out by the RFL, it shows that South Yorkshire is nowhere near the front of people’s minds in Red Hall.
When we queried why nothing had been released congratulating Sheffield and Doncaster on their Grand Final success we were told ‘after the Grand Finals last year we did issue something along those lines and it didn’t get picked up at all’, is this a good reason not to put anything out this year?
The RFL have thrown money at expansion in Wales, London and France and yet the closest place to the heartland receives very little encouragement and no financial support to help expand. Both Sheffield and Doncaster have to battle against other sports, mainly soccer, but the potential in both areas is enormous but we can’t be expected to do everything ourselves when we are already struggling with finance due to a downturn in the corporate market.
There is some good news, David Gent and his team have been extremely supportive of the work we are doing away from the first team. Our youth structure is comparable with any Superleague club and our community work covers not just South Yorkshire but North East Derbyshire also.
South Yorkshire has great potential for Rugby Football League however, we need help and investment from the centre to help us publicise the game and grow the crowds.