Grassroots membership scheme up for discussion

Delegates at the next clubs’ meeting of the National Conference League will be presented with in-depth information on the Rugby Football League’s Membership Scheme by Chairman Trevor Hunt and Club Representative Mike Denning.

Denning and Hunt will then be ready to answer questions for the floor on a subject that has raised concerns throughout the grassroots, including among NCL clubs.

Hunt, in an email to clubs last Friday, advised: “You will all be aware of the ongoing consultations and discussions that are being undertaken by the RFL with various, clubs, leagues and individuals with regard to the implementation of a Membership Scheme for the sport in 2022.

“You will also be aware of the statements released by the RFL on behalf of the Chair of the Community Board (a group of representatives elected by the constituent parts of the Community Game, to represent the interests of the game) and of the severe criticism of the scheme in some quarters based generally upon assumed knowledge, supposition, rumour and even ignorance of what the scheme would actually entail.”

He continued: This understandably emotive range of reaction to being charged for something that ostensibly many will feel is already being provided for nothing has created a maelstrom of fact and fiction from which no clear path can be determined. Therefore, in the interest of separating the fact from the fiction, and to satisfy ourselves on behalf of our member clubs as to what services were actually supplied by the RFL at what costs, myself (as Chair of the NCL) and Mike Denning as an NCL Club Rep on the Management Committee and Chair of Thatto Heath – one of the country’s largest and most successful clubs – challenged the RFL to provide the hard evidence to support their expenditure claims, the level of services they provide, and to justify the need for a Membership Scheme.”

Hunt elaborated: “We were both invited to the RFL’s Media City offices last Wednesday, where we met with the leading administrators of the Sport’s National Governing Body and were given full access to information (some confidential) to form our own opinions on costs, services, necessity, staffing, legal requirements and directives from Sport England. In fact the NCL Management Committee, through me as Chair, were able to ask for any information that we felt was necessary to ensure the RFL keep the sport safe, legal and financially sustainable.”

Denning added: “Both Trevor and I came into this process knowing that any decisions on a membership scheme moving forward would not be popular with some in the Community Game. We are dealing with clubs in the main that are situated in areas of deprivation, recognised nationally and officially as still being in a pandemic and the economic impact that has had.

“We had a frank and open discussion with the RFL over operational costs and were satisfied in the justifications provided.”

He continued: “As a trustee and volunteer of a community club I want what’s best for all of our members in terms of opportunities to play in the safest environment there is. The current level of regulation is necessary to keep us all safe and to grow the game. We have emphasised to the RFL that whilst in principle we support the introduction of a membership scheme there has to be room for the casual player, and hardship cases. There has to be a transparent system of how the funds are managed – and that trusted people from the community game must be invited to sit on a board which oversees the audit of the funds. We are in changing times and more than ever we need to work together on solutions to any loss of funding and the affects that has on our great game.”

Hunt added: “We both had been a conduit for questions, concerns and criticisms of the RFL from Community Leagues and clubs and the NCL Management Committee were determined to try and get some answers that we could share with the NCL clubs and the greater game.

“To say that we were ‘Doubting Thomases’ of the sums being quoted, and the work involved in providing the services, would be an understatement. But Mike and myself are professionally heavily involved in multi-million pound contract-service procurement in the public and private sectors, and we used that experience, and skills honed over many years, to test the robustness of the proposals of the RFL; the evidence of services provided, complete with costs, and the justification for the move towards a subscription Membership Scheme.”

Hunt revealed: “We were provided with evidence-based facts, figures, projections and case examples, whilst being talked through the various legal processes that are undertaken on behalf of the community game and the players and volunteers within it. And we were given a full understanding of the implications of non-compliance to an unsuspecting but well-meaning individual if any of these processes should not be completed appropriately, and then something went wrong.

“We checked for ‘double’ counting with regard to staff and costs, to staff functions and to the needs of various aspects of the services provided and how they were attributed to the Community Game, and we were able to be satisfied that the costs claimed were for the Community Game only and did not involve ‘slipped’ costs from the professional arm of the sport. We left the sessions with a full understanding of what the running of a Community Sport in 2021 (and beyond) necessitates to ensure compliance with numerous Government regulatory, medical and legal requirements; what this means to individuals, clubs and Leagues; and with a full and clear idea of the Sport England directives with regard to Community sport self-sustainability, training and education.

“We challenged the benefits of such a scheme, were given an insight into the benefits to be provided, and could see how they would be attractive to participants. We also secured a guarantee from the RFL that a small team of Trustees will audit the Membership Scheme expenditure and service delivery on an annual basis.

“We had to concede that there is a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes from a dedicated and enthusiastic team that deals with just the Community Game. Throughout the sessions it became more and more apparent that a Membership Scheme is a necessity if the sport is to survive and build for the future. Whilst it also became apparent that the proposed Membership Fees that the RFL are set to implement following consultation with various leagues and their officials will only meet about half the costs of the services provided to the Community Game at this time, the RFL are committed to maintaining the same level of service.”

Hunt concluded: “The full details of our meeting with the RFL have, of course, already been comprehensively shared with, and been analysed by, your Management Committee. Armed with this knowledge, at the next NCL Clubs’ meeting, Mike and myself will present to the clubs our findings from the ‘Open Day’ and will answer questions as best we can with regard to the services and funding of the RFL, and why we feel a Membership Scheme, although not desirable, is necessary to protect the sport and to develop a sustainable and successful way forward for the future.”

It is hoped to arrange the next clubs’ meeting as quickly as possible.

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