Garry Schofield challenges Wigan chief on the state of Rugby League

Garry Schofield challenges the views of Wigan Chairman Ian Lenagan on the current state of Rugby League

I almost choked on my Monday-morning cornflakes when I read some of Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan’s remarks about the mood of many fans regarding the current state of the sport in last week’s League Express.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds.

According to the article, which followed Super League interim chairman Ken Davy’s equally intriguing claim that “the future is incredibly positive”, the Warriors supremo has “no time” for what is referred to as the “current mood of negativity in certain sectors of the game”.

Talking after the recent France versus England match, he argued: “Rugby League, unfortunately, talks itself down far too much.

“When you look at the growth here in France, and the increase the whole game has had in viewing figures on television, it has gone up by 10-15 per cent over the last three years.

“The last two seasons have been absolutely awful because of Covid and they have tested us all to the extreme, but when you see that kind of growth in appeal for television broadcasters, and you know that you have a great product on the field, you know you are heading in the right direction.

“I just wish that some people weren’t so negative all of the time about the sport.

“Now we’ve got the fourth biggest city in France joining our competition, we should be proud of it and we should be talking our game up.

“I don’t know why we keep knocking ourselves, it’s a mystery to me.”

Well, let me help you out there, Mr Lenagan, because if you think we’re heading in the right direction, I don’t want you as my navigator.

I talk to a lot of fans on a regular basis. Like many of them, I love our sport and genuinely believe it is the greatest game and want nothing more than to see it grow and thrive.

Many of us see the value in Toulouse coming into the competition and hope that in time they can ‘do a Catalans Dragons’ and become a real force.

That’s a positive, but I’m certainly not oblivious to Rugby League’s shortcomings and I’m in the position to be able to speak for the average supporter who thinks like me and whom Mr Lenagan has had a pop at.

When such an influential and powerful person within the game is so critical and disrespectful to the very people who have stuck with it and continue to support it, whether by paying to watch in person or on TV, it’s disappointing, to say the least.

Supporters aren’t stupid, they can see what’s happening in front of them.

They want the sport to be the best it can be in terms of its administration, the sponsors it attracts, the crowds it commands and the entertainment it provides.

But it isn’t, and while the RFL is far from immune from questions – for instance, why are we still waiting to hear about funding levels for clubs for next season? – I think it’s reasonable to ask Mr Lenagan about what the Super League breakaway achieved and what value for money was provided by appointing Robert Elstone as the competition’s chief executive.

We all accept that the pandemic has thrown up unprecedented problems and challenges, but our sport was already struggling before Covid came along, and there are plenty of us who find it difficult to see what, if anything, the split from the RFL has achieved.

And, by the way, has there been any progress in bringing the top-flight back under the RFL banner?

If Super League is such a “great product” with so much “appeal for television broadcasters”, how come the new deal with Sky is worth so much less than the existing one?

If we are “heading in the right direction”, why aren’t big new sponsorship deals being announced.

And why, Mr Lenagan, are we seeing dismal attendance figures at a time when the public are supposedly desperate to get back to seeing love sport after being denied it during the lockdown.

Do those crowds of 7,396 for the recent play-off meeting between your club Wigan and Leeds and 6,252 for the previous evening’s Warrington-Hull KR clash scream ‘this is a great product’?

Perhaps have a look at your own club and consider what is being served up?

Wigan’s tactics have been so dull and monotonous, it’s no surprise people in one of the Rugby League’s traditionally greatest strongholds aren’t flocking to matches.

We’re in the entertainment business, but with the way they play, clubs like Wigan and Hull, led by another Super League breakaway advocate in Adam Pearson, are putting spectators to sleep.

People aren’t being negative, they are being realistic and they are disillusioned with the way the game has being going for several years, especially at the top level, and the way it has been administered.

As I’ve said, rather than having a dig at the loyal people who have shown they care deeply for Rugby League, Mr Lenagan might be better served looking at why they feel the way they do and acting on it.

Attempts to progress Rugby League are going to be more easily achieved and much more effective if everyone involved is pulling on the same piece of rope.

The concussion debate

Opinion seems to be very divided after the revelation that several former players who are suffering from brain damage are planning a legal claim against the RFL for negligence.

It’s argued that there wasn’t enough protection for players who had suffered head injuries and follows a well-publicised similar action by rugby union players.

Should they be successful in winning compensation, it could well lead to many more claims, and it’s hard to see how the governing body could deal with such a situation financially.

I can understand both sides here.

I don’t blame players who find themselves significantly affected by head injuries suffered during their career for trying to establish some financial security for themselves and their families.

But, as many have said, we all took up Rugby League and earned money from playing it knowing it was a high-impact contact sport, and that there were some risks attached.

I’ve had a bit of criticism for going down the legal route regarding the detached retina which has cost me the sight in my left eye.

But before folk say I’m being hypocritical, I’d like to clarify that mine is an industrial claim, not one against the RFL.

My lawyer is looking into my having a life-changing episode as a result of my job, which was as a full-time Rugby League player.

It’s like a case made by, for example, a former miner whose life has been negatively impacted by the job they did.

Going back to the general debate over the dangers of concussion, I think the one good thing to have come out of it is the improved protocols that have now been put in place, which mean players who have had a blow to the head are assessed and treated far faster than previously and are protected from causing further damage by staying on the pitch when they aren’t fit to do so.

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