A top sports lawyer has warned that if the Rugby Football League opts to keep promotion and relegation in the schedule this season, any team relegated from Super League would have strong grounds to mount a legal challenge against the decision.
The Rugby Football League’s board met last week to consider the prospect of scrapping promotion and relegation this season, but a decision was deferred until July 23 at the latest, much to the dismay of Super League clubs.
Richard Cramer, a renowned legal expert of Front Row Legal, a law firm specialising in sports and media law based in Leeds, admits that he understands the stance of the clubs wanting to dispense with relegation.
“Absolutely – relegation is always predicated on a season starting in February and finishing in October, so anything other than that becomes problematic and compromises the whole integrity and concept of relegation,” he said.
“There’s enormous uncertainty hanging over the sport now, and to relegate a club would be very harsh in my view, and would be open to a legal challenge on the basis that it’s not what was on the table to begin with when the clubs started the season.
“It’s not a level playing field whatsoever; you have Catalans and Toronto, who could be subject to overseas regulations, and there are also potential challenges with regional lockdowns and players not wanting to play at this time due to vulnerable family members or other reasons.”
Cramer also said that he is concerned about what the pressure of a relegation battle would do for player welfare, given an already hectic schedule and an increased burden on player welfare.
He said: “There’s enough pressure with relegation ordinarily, let alone with players who haven’t trained since mid-March,” he said.
“Throw in the pressures of playing with COVID, and you have to think seriously about the welfare of players as well as your competition format.”
Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers are two of the teams outside Super League who are pushing hard for promotion to remain in some form, though many within the sport are of the belief that the RFL will eventually remove relegation at the very least this season.
But Cramer conceded that those teams with genuine ambition to be promoted do deserve consideration in the matter, as the lower-leagues try to path their own way back to a resumption of the league season ahead of Super League’s return next month.
“You have to feel sorry for teams such as Featherstone and Leigh, who retain a strong ambition to get up,” he said.
“Perhaps you could have a 13-team competition and promote someone, but I do think the RFL would be subject to some challenges if they were to relegate someone.”