Grassroots membership fee row rumbles on

A leading figure on the grassroots scene in the North West has entered the debate over the Rugby Football League’s plans to introduce membership fees for amateur players to help fund central administrative costs, given likely shortfalls in future Sport England funding.

The RFL has announced annual charges of £30 (open age) and £22 (youth) from next year and stressed in last week’s League Express that the issue has been on the agenda for around a decade, and that delegates to National Conference League and Youth meetings had been informed.

However, North West Counties 13s-15s chair Kevin Davidson said: “The assertion by the RFL’s Director of Participation and Development Marc Lovering that the subject was discussed at the December Youth and Junior Management meeting is very lame. It was raised, yes, but effectively glossed over. I registered the objections of the North West Counties 13s-15s to the idea, but that was all it was depicted as: an idea.”

He continued: “During the following Youth & Junior meeting, membership was mentioned but glossed over again. I took Lovering back to this subject and again registered the objection to the proposal from my League.
“Subsequently we were asked to a Zoom meeting with Sandy Lindsay to discuss Financial Sustainability. From a North West League’s point of view there was only myself and Tammy Smith (the Chair of the North West Youth League) although Mick Doyle had been invited but was double booked.

“Not only was Sandy there from the RFL, but Stuart Prior of the Community Board (who is also North West Men’s League Chair), Fred Baker (Community Board), Robert Hicks (the RFL’s Head of Legal), RFL Director Marc Lovering and Kelly Barrett (Head of Community Game Services). We’d been invited to a meeting with Sandy Lindsay for god’s sake!”

Davidson revealed: “Within seconds Financial Sustainability turned into memberships. I, again, registered the 13s-15s objections, stating the deprived areas of Rugby League, the fact that many parents have been on furlough and that as leagues and clubs we weren’t getting value for money from the proposal.

“The only thing that I can see that we get from the RFL is DBS applications which, according to the government website, cost £23 and zero for volunteers’ annual renewals. We also get racial and child abuse investigations, which they insist upon.

“I know that I can get the same from a well-respected, retired police Chief Inspector for a fraction of the cost of the approximate £200,000 the RFL would reap from the RFL’s membership proposal for the North West Youth and Juniors.

“The RFL has stated that clubs would no longer have to pay for insurances. Whether that insurance payment includes the clubs’ Public Liability and Personal Accident insurances hasn’t been made clear. Team insurance for Youth and Junior teams is £50 per team. A club with a team from U7s to U18s would normally pay £600. With an average of 20 players per team, the RFL would take £4800.”

He concluded: “Apparently, many clubs in Yorkshire take advantage of the RFL’s services but to my knowledge few of the North West Counties clubs do; the RFL is welcome to charge a reasonable price for the services it provides, but not to spread the costs for the few to the many.”

Over in Yorkshire the Heavy Woollen League official who last week proposed a full meeting of clubs and the RFL at a large venue said: “What happens if players or clubs refuse to pay the RFL’s membership fees? Will fixtures be cancelled, or referees not appointed? This seems to be about raising money to pay RFL staff.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.