Grassroots membership fee row rumbles on

The Rugby Football League’s Director of Participation and Development, Marc Lovering, has rebuffed a suggestion that he pledged, several years ago, that membership fees would not be introduced at the grassroots.

The RFL is to introduce player membership fees next year – a plan that has raised a storm in the amateur game – and Mick Doyle, the chair of the North West Counties Under 16s-18s League, which is strongly opposed to the proposal, last week circulated an email he received in 2017 from Lovering.

Dated 10 November 2017, the email stated: “I hope (my following) comments address any concerns you may have, and clarify the RFL’s position.

“The national governing body is required to hold a central register of all players. Registration via LeagueNet is free now and will remain free to all players.

“The OurLeague online app for Rugby League fans, coaches, and players offers content that players and fans might choose to look at or not. In future it may offer merchandise etc that players or fans might chose to buy or not, as they do with their favourite club or any other group or membership they’re involved in.

“That does not change the key point that the RFL invests in the LeagueNet system on behalf of the whole sport. It will continue to do so. There is no charge. Registration on the LeagueNet system is free for players and will remain so.”

Doyle and others have taken that note as contradicting the RFL’s plan to impose membership fees. Lovering, however, told League Express: “From memory the wider context was around whether the introduction of the new online registration system would result in an administration-type charge for using the system. That was not the case then, and remains the case now.”

He continued: “This should be differentiated from membership, based on the need for financial sustainability and for participants to contribute towards the costs of servicing the community game, only a small part of which relates to the registration process.

“Membership, as opposed to an administration type fee for using a system, also gives the RFL the opportunity to provide substantial benefits in return.”

He concluded: “The reality is financial circumstances in Rugby League have changed, as they have in most sports. We all need to recognise the need for change and the benefits to the community game of becoming more sustainable and less reliant on public funding.”

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