Simon Johnson confirms RFL will retain Odsal in 2020 + comments on Bradford ownership

RFL chairman Simon Johnson has confirmed that they will retain the lease on Odsal Stadium in 2020 – before defending the governing body’s historical decision-making process regarding Bradford Bulls and the stadium itself.

Johnson held a conference call with the media on Friday – with the Bulls inevitably high on the agenda. With the club moving out of Odsal, the governing body has confirmed it will keep hold of the lease rather than look to sell it on: with Johnson stating they hope to explore the possibility of them returning to the stadium in 2021.

“There will be a cost in maintaining a mothballed Odsal and the board were made fully aware of that,” he said.

“That’s why in the end, the board made the decision that we would maintain stadium throughout the 2020 season, whilst at the same time working to explore the option for them to come back for 2021, working with Bradford Council to explore future plans. The other thing that was noted was that other parties need to support the RFL and play their part in ensuring that they do return to Bradford.”

There is confusion and even anger concerning the fact former RFL chief executive Nigel Wood and his family were unveiled as shareholders of the Bulls this week, with a suggestion of a serious conflict of interest. Johnson, however, has denied that.

He said: “They’ve submitted budgets which show how they intend to run the club sustainably and address the debt within the club and deal with creditors properly and fairly.

“It’s not for the independent board to run clubs: the clubs run the clubs. We hope they will give it their best shot – the financial information supplied was sufficient and it was enough to lift them out of special measures.

“As to what we feel about the owners, you have to remember the power we have in relation to the transfer of ownership. We cannot take account of subjective matters and we cannot simply judge against the rules we have which were approved by the clubs in May. Are they prohibited by ownership of other clubs? The answer is no. Do they pass the owners and directors test? Yes. Have the put forward and proposed plans sustainable and sufficient? Yes. On that basis that was why the independent board under the powers we have, felt comfortable in transferring the ownership.

“This is an independent board of directors and when we met this week, the board considered a detailed chronology and summary of decisions taken by the board ever since 2011 at the point when Nigel Wood was involved. We consider independence is a key thing and it the independent board concluded that decisions taken at that time were reasonable based on relevant information at that time.”

But Johnson stopped short of commenting on both the full identity of the new consortium at Bradford, as well as speculation on their central funding.

When asked about the ownership, he said: “I don’t think we as a board would ever disclose that information – that’s a question you have to ask that consortium.” And when asked about how much funding the Bulls will receive in 2020, he added: “I’m going to claim confidentiality again. All I can tell you is the amount they receive has been part of the budget approved by the board.”

For further coverage of the Bulls’ takeover see Monday’s issue of League Express.