RFL decision to deny elite academy licences for three clubs challenged by MPs

A row over the Rugby Football League’s decision to deny three clubs a licence to run an academy has reached Parliament.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 9:25 am
Updated Friday, 28th May 2021, 9:26 am
Castleford were one of the teams left out when the governing body awarded the latest set of six-year elite academy licences

Hull KR, Castleford and Bradford reacted angrily after being left out when the governing body awarded the latest set of six-year elite academy licences and their bid to overturn the ruling has been backed by local MPs.

Karl Turner, shadow justice minister and MP for East Hull, has written a letter to sports minister Nigel Huddleston outlining his strong objections and seeking support for an urgent, independent review.

Castleford and Pontefract MP Yvette Cooper and Judith Cummins, who represents Bradford South and is chair of the All Party Rugby League Parliamentary Group, have also raised their concerns and asked the RFL for an explanation.

Eight clubs from the Betfred Super League – Catalans Dragons, Huddersfield, Hull FC, Leeds, St Helens, Wakefield, Warrington and Wigan – plus London Broncos and Newcastle Thunder from the Championship were awarded licences for 2022-27.

A panel of experts convened by the RFL and Super League took into account the track records of existing academies and the likely impact on the community game when it considered applications from a total of 15 clubs.

The clubs who missed out will be able to run development academies to play in a colleges competition but that has failed to satisfy them.

In a letter to Huddleston, Turner wrote: “Hull KR, an institution of my city with nearly 140 years of proud history, are being denied the opportunity to develop their future and thousands of supporters in my constituency of East Hull are rightly furious at the decision.”

Turner says the RFL has failed to fully explain its decision, which he argues has left players and their families “absolutely devastated”, and believes it could damage the players’ mental health.

“When academy players have barely been able to throw a ball for 15 months, the decision to shut down their academy at the very moment their lives are returning to normal could not have come at a worse time,” he said.

Turner is also trying to secure an adjournment debate on this subject and claimed on social media that he has enlisted the support of the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, a well-known rugby league fan.

He told his 34,000 Twitter followers: “Just met with the Speaker of the House of Commons to raise my serious concerns. @CommonsSpeaker is also with us.”

An RFL spokesman said the clubs were told they would have the option to seek a review of the decision from Sports Resolutions but insisted the process was “robust and rigorous”.

“We believe this was a difficult but necessary process to improve the game’s elite player development programme, with necessary consideration for the health of the community game,” the spokesman said.

“The process was scoped-out in full consultation with the clubs through the heads of youth forum, the Super League football working group and the CEO forums and has received support throughout.

“We, therefore, believe the process was robust and rigorous and strengthened further through the additional of independent input.

“It is the role of governing body to make tough decisions in the best interests of the sport.”