THE Rugby Football League will take the first steps, this week, in the process of consulting amateur clubs, administrators and players on a possible switch of seasons.
Red Hall bosses will, confirmed Director of Participation & Strategic Partnerships David Gent, interview a number of polling companies to ensure that any ballot will be seen as being truly independent following strong resistance, particularly at Open Age level, to the summer option.
A series of meetings on the `Four Seasons’ issue were called by the RFL following the receipt, during the winter, of eight letters, prompted by the lengthy period of freezing weather, asking for a wholesale switch. Gent and his colleagues have subsequently stressed that any decision will ultimately rest with clubs and leagues.
The three options are: a switch, for junior and open age teams, to March–November; to keep the season structure as it is at present; and to introduce a split season which would include a break for the winter months.
Gent said: “It is essential that we get the views of the players about when they would like to play. During this formal consultation period we want to hear the views of as many people as possible who are involved in the sport.
“There has been, through the process so far, a belief by some that this is a ‘done deal’ in moving to a summer-based game. On the contrary, this consultation is a genuine, sincere and open consultation process to give players, coaches, administrators and volunteers an opportunity to comment on what they believe to be the best time of the year to play Rugby League.”
Meanwhile, Yorkshire Junior League official Peter Benson has clarified claims that the giant league recently voted against summer rugby. He said: “At present our U-8s, U-9s, U-10s and U-11s play from the second week in September to the second week in December and then take a three-month break until the second weekend in March, when they play until the end of June. The older age groups, from U-12s to U-15s, commence on the second weekend in September and play right through until the end of April.
“At the beginning of last season the U-11s, who were moving up to U-12s, asked if they could play the split season and we called a vote. The vote was close and it was actually passed on a simple majority by, I believe from memory, about 27 votes to 25; but our constitution calls for a two-thirds majority which clearly was not achieved.”
Other leagues have responded to a recent survey by League Express. Ken Tinsdale, of both the Yorkshire and Yorkshire Youth Leagues, said: “The only people ready for summer rugby are Youth and Juniors in certain areas. Looking at the game overall, I can see reasons for and against. It would be good for Juniors up to 11 not to have to play in cold weather and train in the dark but, if finance is available, will it disappear - like it did with the National Conference winter League - when the funding dries up, or will teams outside the heartlands still receive help?”
Tinsdale continued: “Grounds need to be sorted for all teams, but the most important issue of all, perhaps, is referees. At the beginning of each winter season the Yorkshire and Pennine Open Age Leagues have to postpone fixtures because of the shortage, and junior teams have away coaches to officiate. There are not enough referees in the game now; what would it be like in summer, with another 600 to 800 teams on top of Rugby League’s existing fixture list? Would every game have a referee to cover it?”
He added: “At the Youth forum, one representative said that any teams that use cricket grounds should not hold up the rest from going to summer. This is supposed to be about the entire sport; I think it’s negative if we are ready to cast away teams that share facilities with other sports. And, crucially, if there is a push for summer then honesty and truth should be paramount; there must be no hidden agendas, which some people suspect.”
National Conference League Administrator David Lowe, meanwhile, confirmed that the flagship competition is “consulting as many constituents as possible to obtain the widest possible view,” while the Bradford League is to discuss the matter at its meeting on Wednesday (28 April) having asked for players’ views.
Barrow ARL Secretary Terry Barker said: “We discussed the issue at our last league meeting and nobody is interested in a switch to summer. The personnel having these meetings should come through BARLA, not just call meetings to discuss it with selected people.”
That view was echoed by the Women’s ARL. Chairman Steve Manning said: “The vote was unanimous to remain in winter. Our aim is to keep standards high, as shown in Women’s Finals.”
Stephen Clements, Secretary/Chairman of the North Lancashire District League, said: “We have not formerly discussed the Four Seasons meetings. Most of our clubs are unaware of the details of the discussions at those meetings, and so am I.
“I can definitely say that, from the clubs I have spoken to, there is definitely not a consensus to switch to a `March to November’ season, more an overriding sense of annoyance and disappointment at the perceived arrogance of the RFL, who are viewed to be pushing the idea to suit their own ends.
“The players have mixed feelings; some already double up and play in the Summer Conference Leagues, which although widely viewed has having been an excellent tool for expanding the game nationwide has definitely had a negative effect on the strength of the traditional Open Age leagues; some others are vehemently opposed to Summer Rugby and I fear will be lost to the game if the switch happens. At the end of the day, though, the clubs will decide. We are merely administrators of the game and at all times should remember that we are in place to represent the clubs and not dictate to them; something the RFL would be wise to take on board.”
Similarly, Hull & District Youth League Secretary Sue Stephenson said: “We have not met as a management team to discuss this, and those who were invited have not reported back formally. As League Secretary I did not even receive an invite and only became aware of the meetings when Tim Butcher of League Express informed our Mini-League Secretary (who did not know either). I can say, though, that there is no consensus in this region to switch to March to November. Until we sit down and discuss properly the pros and cons for switching any age groups we are not in a realistic position to even consider it, yet alone approach our membership.”
Clubs in the Castleford & Featherstone ARL had already voted against summer rugby. Adrian Campy of Allerton Bywater said: “We’re not interested; we’re following the decision of our Under 12s, who voted against it along with the rest of the Yorkshire Junior League.” Brotherton’s Mark Newby added: “It’s always been a winter/autumn game. Why change it? They’re just trying to kill the amateur game, teams can’t play on hard grounds, there will be too many injuries, and insurance premiums will go sky high.” And Methley Royals recommended to their squad, several months ago, a switch to summer but were given a 100 per cent rebuttal.
Fryston Secretary Steve Davies said: “The RFL says summer rugby will attract more people. The only thing it will do is bring people to matches in shorts and flip flops; it will not be fun for the players, playing on
rock hard pitches, and it will not be fun for clubs when players are on holiday in June, July and August, and can’t muster a side. And besides, don’t the speccies go on holiday?”
Davies continued: “If the ground is rock hard in winter we do not play - simple as that. This can last for up to three weeks, as it did this year, but in summer the ground will be rock hard for months. We lost three matches this year due to the severe weather, in summer we would lose months of games and be faced with a big backlog of fixtures. I have to ask, too, whether the NHS has been approached about this crazy idea because, trust me, they will have plenty of extra people coming through the doors on a Saturday afternoon with concussion, broken arms and broken legs, which nobody wants
CMS Yorkshire League Secretary Malcolm Sellers, who had no takers to a proposal earlier in the season for a summer competition, has asked clubs to ballot players. He said: “I would appreciate a full response to this request; it is for the benefit of all clubs and players.
“If you don’t tell me, I cannot tell the RFL. If we can go to the final vote with a full mandate it may or may not count for anything but at least we will have shown what the feeling at the grassroots are.”
The RFL, meanwhile, is determined to hear views from all parts of the sport on the issue. Anyone wishing to learn more about the matter, or make a comment, is invited to e-mail Andy Harland, the RFL’s National Development Manager, at email@example.com.
Article by kind permission of Phil Hodgson & League Express