Summer or Winter
Queens have thrown their weight behind the campaign for a wholesale switch from winter to summer rugby, which will culminate in a meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, on Wednesday prior to recommendations to the Community Board.
The north Leeds outfit are the reigning CMS Yorkshire League champions but have suffered from a drought of fixtures as the Unison Premier Division increasingly truncates and teams fail to travel.
Secretary Dougie Smithson said: “We would be delighted to switch seasons. We want rugby, pure and simple, and it would suit us. I always think, when I see players training in the dark, that they should be in bed instead. It’s much better when they can train in the daylight, as at the present time of the year.”
Queens could, however, find themselves severely short of opposition as amateur clubs and leagues generally gave short shrift to claims that winter-based players are keen to move. Only one team in the Hull League – Norland – showed any interest in summer rugby at a meeting last week, and there was a unanimous vote for winter at the Halifax ARL 24 hours later.
No club in the Castleford & Featherstone ARL has expressed a preference for summer at the delegates meeting held on the same night. Of those with summer teams, Featherstone Lions confirmed a 12-months-a-year philosophy and Kippax representatives backed winter, and it was, generally, a similar story elsewhere.
The drive for a switch was dealt a further blow when the Yorkshire Junior League, League Express understands, voted against the proposal, while the Kukri North West Counties League is canvassing its players and has not, as yet, received many expressions of interest.
BARLA Secretary Roger Fagge – who is keeping on open mind on the issue – has expressed concerns, meanwhile, over the process by which the RFL has sought to obtain views. He said: “`Amateur Rugby League is on course to switch its playing season as early as this September.’ That was the bold statement which opened Tim Butcher’s story on page two of the League Express (Monday 5th April).
“Now it seems that the RFL - David Gent and Andy Harland in particular – are in danger of believing their own press.
“A handful of meetings – two each side of the Pennines – with a selective guest list and, all of a sudden, the game is on the verge of making a radical change to its structure. These meetings were not a debate, they had the feel of a promotional drive towards summer rugby.”
Fagge continued: “The general reporting of these meetings wrongly gives the impression that BARLA is supporting the drive towards summer rugby. I’ve attended two meetings and gone there with an open mind - unlike most of the other attendees, who are clearly there for their support of summer rugby and who don’t see any problems that are insurmountable.
“I ask: why create a problem by trying to overcome one? More worrying was the suggestion from some quarters that financial incentives could be offered to teams who want to make the switch. Would there be any such incentives offered to those that remain winter based?”
Fagge, revealing that BARLA had not been invited to any of the forums, added: “Is this a deliberate ploy to divide and conquer? I went to the meeting at Oulton anyway, together with BARLA International Manager Mick Turner (who had in fact been invited), and I was emailed information from the Galpharm Stadium meeting.
“BARLA has had no indication whatsoever from any of their member leagues or clubs that they want to move their season to summer; in fact the overriding opinion which has surfaced is that the majority of our members wish to remain as they are and on the last two occasions that the General Assembly was asked to vote on the issue the overwhelming majority were against summer rugby.
“The Association, therefore, is fully committed at present to playing and administering the sport through our current playing seasons. Had Mr Gent or Mr Harland bothered to ask directly for BARLA’s stance on summer rugby at any of these meetings, then BARLA’s view may have not been described in such a positive way.”
Fagge pointed out that the existence of Co-operative Rugby League Conference teams in the so-called `heartland’ areas already gives players the option of summer rugby. He said: “Although such teams have caused a number of problems, players have never been discouraged to play in the summer. Why then take away that choice by moving the whole of the game to summer?
“I have great respect for David and Andy but their campaign, I suspect, is driven by the promised playing figures that need to be delivered to satisfy the £29.4 million grant of public money from Sport England.
“It’s not, however, what the majority of amateur players are asking for and to my mind the reasoning behind the drive is not for the benefit of the amateur game. I strongly believe that the initiative is KPI driven.”
The BARLA boss, questioning how much of the Sport England `windfall’ percolates through to the grassroots, continued: “The RFL’s slant is more performance- than participation-based, and many of the positions in the RFL are talent or performance orientated.
“I believe that there is a place for summer rugby, but the youth and junior game can benefit, rather than the game as a whole. In fact I helped produce a document a while back that is being used as part of the promotional drive right now, which pointed out the benefits of moving junior/youth rugby to the summer, helping to utilise a clubhouse for the whole year.”
Fagge, meanwhile, queried supporting evidence used by the RFL to support their claims. “An example of how the bad weather this winter has affected clubs’ finances was offered of an unnamed club taking £19 in a six week period. What would that club’s takings be throughout the winter if summer rugby came along? The clubhouses are more easily utilised during the summer months when there are no amateur games, they have barbeques and events which are far more attractive to hold through the warmer weather than they would be in winter. In fact a number of clubs share premises with cricket clubs which keep them ticking over nicely, and almost every clubhouse will show at least one game per week on Sky TV which brings in customers to generate revenue. Are there many Sky games in the winter?”
He concluded: “My thoughts are that in five to ten years there will be a generation that has been brought up with and played nothing other than summer rugby; maybe, through natural progression, the game will therefore become summer-based. But I strongly believe that engineering an unwanted change to the playing season could be damaging to the amateur game.
“All that said, BARLA would not dismiss the idea of summer rugby, but the Association has to act in the best interests of and on the instructions of its members.”
Article courtesy of Phil Hodgson & League Express
This article are the views of the author of the article