Someone once said to me that if the Bradford Bulls situation was happening to an American sporting franchise, it would have been made into a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie by now.
For nigh on a decade, rugby league in Bradford has been dragged through the mud by owners not fit for purpose, various financial scandals and a slow but steady alienation of the city’s fanbase. 2017 should have been a line in the sand moment, with a new company, no debts to inherit and the chance to move for sustainability.
But less than three years on, Bradford Bulls find themselves in the same situation once again. The news of a new consortium involving former RFL boss Nigel Wood taking charge will prompt more questions than answers, as has often been the case with Bradford. Calls are rightly growing for the governing body to be subject to a full enquiry into every Bradford-related decision – which includes Odsal – from 2012 (when the head lease was purchased by the RFL) to the present day. That is now a must.
The identity of the club and the city they play in is irrelevant. It is a major sporting scandal that time and time again, owners who have not been fit for purpose have been placed in charge at a competing club and they have been allowed to go to rack and ruin. When you consider this was a club who were dominating the sport fewer than 15 years ago, it makes the situation even more frightening. It is absolutely incredible that there is any shred of goodwill remaining in regards to fan support. Those people, the people who give their time and money to their club, deserve so much better.
Of course, if the RFL have nothing to hide, then they would co-operate with a full enquiry. They’d also be open, transparent and honest about everything that has happened. You may argue ‘why would they do such a thing’? Well, the answer is that they supposedly care about their integrity as a governing body. With the pressure now on their shoulders greater than ever before, their integrity is now being called into question. So in that regard, here are 15 questions for the governing body to answer.
- It appears there’s an interim chairman in Eric Perez, not a permanent one – so have there been guarantees given to the RFL that Bradford won’t simply be in a similar position in a few months?
- How long does this consortium plan to take to pay off creditors – many of whom are local Bradford-based businesses who risk being alienated?
- How have there been supposed key staff members at Bradford surviving numerous administrations with no ramifications?
- The full identity of the consortium is incredibly discreet: why should Bradford fans invest their own time and money in a consortium whom they don’t know the full identity of?
- On that note: it was revealed that Mark Sawyer has taken a 24.99% share in the club: what is Nigel Wood’s – or his family’s share? Who holds the remaining 75.01%?
- Is the former chief executive of the RFL – and current chief of the IRL – holding a stake in an active club not the very definition of conflict of interest: which he himself referred to less than a fortnight ago?
- Furthermore, how can it be good for the sport’s integrity that a man who was involved in the process of appointing former owners – failed owners – in charge of this club is now involved in the ownership of it himself?
- Do the RFL accept some level of accountability for the current situation of Bradford given they backed a consortium that has irrefutably proven to be a failure?
- Karen Moorhouse said in 2017 that the RFL were confident the Andrew Chalmers consortium would ‘provide an exciting and stable future for rugby league in the city’. What does the governing body think of those comments now?
- What guarantees and promises were made by the Chalmers-Lowe consortium that made it a more desirable option than any other? Were those promises fulfilled? Now that consortium has apparently departed, is it not in the supporters’ best interests to know what went wrong to avoid a repeat?
- Is it not now imperative that the fans have some say in the control of their club to avoid destroying the last remaining shred of goodwill left?
- The debt at Bradford was approaching £1million in fewer than three years of trading. At what stage did the RFL discover the situation was so severe?
- What is the process concerning the official ‘fit and proper persons’ testing? Does such a testing process actually exist to vet potential club owners?
- What are the RFL’s intention with the head lease of Odsal now that the property is vacant and they are liable for rates of circa £50,000 per annum? Will the sport’s money, or the RFL’s money, be spent on those rates if the lease is retained?
- Most importantly of all, would this governing body be prepared to commit itself to an enquiry into the dealings with both Bradford Bulls and Odsal from 2012 (when the lease was purchased by the RFL) to the present day for the best interests of the people of Bradford and the sport of rugby league?
..but don’t hold your breath on getting any answers.