Schoey: Rugby League needs independent governance

Garry Schofield reacts to the news that Super League Executive Chairman Robert Elstone handed in his notice last week.

About time.

Robert Elstone’s departure as Executive Chairman of Super League came as no real surprise.

When clubs recently voted against the private equity deal he had helped bring to the table, he was left in a pretty difficult position.

After all, on his appointment back in June 2018, he was tasked with bringing extra revenue into the sport, negotiating the new broadcast agreement to replace the current one, which ends this year, and raising the profile of the competition and its players.

Extra revenue? Not via a private equity deal, certainly, in fact it’s been well publicised that the exercise is going to cost a cool £750,000, which must be paid to the merchant banker that facilitated the rejected offer.

And since the naming agreement with Betfred was extended for a further two years in 2019, there hasn’t been much evidence of a big increase in sponsorship, give or take a pizza or two!

The value of the current broadcast deal has dropped due to the pandemic, and all the signs are that the new agreement will be worth even less.

And is the profile of Super League or its players any higher than it was in June 2018? Not from where I’m standing.

If you’re not an existing fan or a Sky subscriber, I don’t think you’d recognise a current player if he walked past you in the street.

In defence of Mr Elstone, I think he was up against it from the start, even before coronavirus came along and created a far tougher economic landscape for everyone.

He’s taken a lot of criticism, some of it over his reportedly hefty salary, but that was the remuneration agreed with him by the clubs when they broke away from the RFL to go it alone in terms of commercial activities, and you can’t blame him for accepting what was on offer.

And mention of the clubs brings us to the nub of the matter.

Because going back all the way to the formation of the Northern Union in 1895, never mind that of Super League in 1996 or the split from the RFL in 2018, clubs have held the power, and largely followed their own individual interests, often to the detriment of the game as a whole.

Yes, the executive has a vote when it came to Super League decision making, but when each of the clubs does too, it means the head of the organisation has no power, and is little more than a puppet, and, as we have just seen, a vulnerable one at that.

Those at the RFL will perhaps be smiling to themselves, particularly if this latest development gives them back some of their previous control of Super League, and it’s fair to point out that at this time in particular, the sport can scarcely afford to fund two separate controlling bodies.

But let’s not forget that the RFL has had its fair share of controversial appointments over the years, and it was dissatisfaction with that organisation’s chief executive Nigel Wood and Chairman Brian Barwick, which helped fuel the breakaway two and a half years ago.

I’d certainly like to hear the thoughts of Leeds’ Gary Hetherington, who was the only club representative who opposed the move.

My own view is that the costs have far outweighed any benefits, and I don’t see too many of those, and it’s so typical of our game that the breaking news of the Executive Chairman’s resignation overshadowed the announcement of the fixtures for the forthcoming top-flight campaign, which is scheduled to start on March 26.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens now, with suggestions that some Super League clubs want to fall back in with the RFL.

I think that would be the best way forward, but only if – and it’s a big if – clubs allow the governing body to govern independently for the good of the game as a whole.

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