Talking Grass Roots: Return plans gather pace

At the same time as readers set about enjoying their League Express over a bowl of cereal or possibly a bacon butty last Monday morning, the Rugby Football League were I imagine wading through emails from amateur clubs expressing interest in resuming playing from the second weekend in May.

The RFL’s Kelly Barrett invited responses, from Open Age teams only, in her regular club update on Friday – youth and junior leagues are, I gather, dealing with their teams themselves – with a further missive due to sides in the National Conference League. And I expect the response to be huge.

There are considerations to be taken into account, of course, given potential continuing implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has to be stressed that grass roots outfits are merely being invited to show interest – nothing more than that at this stage – and, in the final analysis, you’d expect clubs to respond positively in the absence of exceptional circumstances, although one or two certainly flagged up a number of concerns to me over the weekend. More positive news on this front in next week’s League Express, I hope.

In addition to the happy revelation regarding the long-awaited return to action, I’ve been able to report in this week’s League Express on the fact that large-grant World Cup funding has now broken the £4 million mark – and there’s still almost two months to run before this particular avenue closes at the end of April.

That’s tremendous news. I imagine that amateur outfits throughout the land will be lodging bids before May arrives, while the small grants programme will continue to make funds available to deserving causes.

Congratulations, once more, to the RLWC2021 team for their tremendous work.

Cockermouth Titans of Cumbria, York St John’s University and West Bowling are the latest beneficiaries. I couldn’t help thinking of Cockermouth’s former secretary, the late Norman Pitts, when I heard of the Titans’ successful bid; the affable administrator would have been absolutely delighted by a fantastic development.

West Bowling’s successful bid is interesting on a number of counts – primarily, for me, in that it’s a case of a ‘circle’ being completed. Wests are sharing the complex with Bradford Park Avenue soccer club and, in that sense, Rugby League is returning home. Many readers will be aware, I’m sure, but others may not, that early in the last century the very successful Bradford club emulated their neighbours Manningham (who had switched from Northern Union to soccer, becoming Bradford City) by also adopting the round ball code, renaming themselves Bradford Park Avenue. At that point rugby adherents launched Bradford Northern – so titled to stress their commitment to the Northern Union (which was later renamed the Rugby Football League). It’s good to know that Rugby League is again being played at Park Avenue in the ongoing complex tale of football codes in Bradford.

Nothing like as complex as the world of female sport, and transgender issues, however. Athletics has, I think, been grappling with this matter for some time and, as a layman, my possibly over-simplistic worry is that someone who says that she (or he) feels like a woman but is trapped in a man’s body, can potentially play Women’s Rugby League. A very interesting missive on the matter dropped in last Friday, from the International Rugby League. Put simply, there’s a great deal of debate surrounding a very tricky subject regarding, entirely correctly, the rights of people who have previously been seriously disadvantaged set against the rights of others who may themselves be put at a possibly physically dangerous disadvantage when the original wrong has been righted.

Rugby League is bound by the rules of the IOC regarding levels of male or female hormone. Limited research, I understand, suggests that after three years of taking oestrogen a transgender woman still has a strength and power advantage, which obviously brings into question safety and equity of participation. Consequently the IRL position is that more research is needed before a properly informed decision can be made.

Meanwhile it remains to be seen what happens when fixtures hopefully resume in May, should any transgender players turn up. One solution (and I may again be being over-simplistic) is for a transgender league to be formed. That would obviously require a certain number of players to step forward, so it could be a non-starter. Even so, perhaps this is an opportunity for Rugby League to set an important lead to other sports.

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