The international game is in safe hands

As 2020 meanders to a close – and good riddance, most might say – many of the folk in Rugby League who care about the game’s international expansion have been given a boost by two significant appointments.

The first was announced a couple of weeks ago, when Danny Kazandjian (pictured) was named as the Secretary General of International Rugby League with immediate effect after having previously been Global Operations Manager.

And last Friday news came through that David Butler is to start work at the turn of the year as the Rugby League European Federation’s new general manager.

Both men are highly experienced and have already provided plenty of proof as to what they can offer.

Kazandjian long ago earned his spurs as an enterprising development officer in foreign lands, while Butler has been a driving force for grass roots Rugby League in the Midlands and has also been a very efficient administrator and manager of the England Universities team.

It’s hard to imagine that better appointments could have been made.

I first met Danny the best part of two decades ago; he was my very patient line manager when I ran the ‘Between the Sticks’ web site as part of the Rivals group, which usually operated club sites. Rivals, I suspect because of Danny’s submissions on my behalf, allowed me to launch a site devoted entirely to amateur Rugby League, which was quite something when you think about it.

He was, I have to say, extremely understanding and supportive and it was great to bump into him a few years later, when I was PRO of the BARLA Great Britain Under 23s team that took part in a Nines competition in Italy.

That was a memorable week for many reasons, not least for how Danny stepped forward to referee a 13-a-side game between, I think, Germany and Italy when the designated official didn’t show.

Those seven days were quite eventful – Danny and I somehow found ourselves among a party of guests being treated – lavishly I have to say – to a trip to the town’s museum by the deputy mayor of Padua as part of a ‘press conference’, with me clad in mucky shorts and trainers, as I’d expected to be pitch-side covering the competition itself. Bizarre, but memorable, as was the journey home when the coach booked to take us to the airport arrived an hour behind schedule – too late for us to catch our flight.

Danny took time out during that week to inform me of his plans for the game’s expansion in various parts of Europe and I’m delighted that many of his ideas have come to fruition with, in all likelihood, more to follow. Rugby League’s development is in good hands, even more so with David Butler on board.

David always ensures that any organisation with which he is involved runs smoothly, something I first noticed when he was an employee of the Rugby Football League. Very importantly from a journalist’s perspective, he can be relied upon to get match information across, including when print deadlines are looming on Sundays. That certainly endears him to me, but I’d have a high regard for his work regardless of any self-interest on my part.

He’s spent two or three years working for the Basketball Association – their loss is certainly Rugby League’s gain.

Meanwhile, I’m sure I’m not the only person in Rugby League who is watching developments in soccer and rugby union with interest as talk escalates of possible legal action being taken by former players who are now suffering from dementia, possibly caused in some instances by injuries sustained many years ago.

Anyone who is suffering from knocks received while playing the sport they love has every right to seek redress where appropriate, of course. It’s entirely up to them, or those family members or friends who are now caring for them.

I doubt that I’ll be joining them, however. At this moment I’ve no reason to, for which I’m perhaps quite lucky. I played mainly at fullback during my time as an amateur Rugby League player in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, and I have to say – as former teammates could certainly attest – that I banged my head a lot.

The reason for that was limited technique and ability on my part, coupled with the fact that I had no intention of ever letting an attacking player get past me easily. I took the phrase “putting your body on the line” literally (as so many Rugby League players did and still do) and the mantra was, and still is, that you’re more likely to get hurt by hanging back than by going in fully committed.

As I say, I’m in good health mentally (although some who read my offerings may question that self-assessment) and hopefully that will remain the case. But I’ve also got to say that I’d be very hesitant (and this is entirely my own stance, I have to stress) about attempting to accuse anyone of negligence if any future dementia suffered by me could be attributed to playing Rugby League.

I worry about the modern trend of judging actions taken long ago through the prism of the present, and not solely in respect of sports injuries, but that last aspect is what I’m looking at here.

The attitude in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s- and before then I’m sure – was very different to what it is now. If you got a bang on the head someone would come on with a bucket and sponge, mop your neck and your bonce, and you’d get up and carry on (which I and many others did plenty of times). If you still looked groggy after a few more minutes you’d probably – but by no means certainly – be taken off and laid on the ground (perhaps minus your boots if the sub needed them, which certainly happened to me once).

Was all that negligent? Well, these days it absolutely would be, given what we’re aware of. Was it negligent then, though? Not in my opinion, because we didn’t know any better, although there were occasional references to former players in their dotage who might be a bit ‘punchy’.

No one knew any better – it was simply accepted practice, in all sports. For evidence of that, view the 1962 Challenge Cup Final on YouTube, and an incident when the legendary Derek ‘Rocky’ Turner was treated for concussion by Wakefield Trinity and Great Britain physio Paddy Armour, who was without question one of the best around.

It wouldn’t quite wash these days, but that’s exactly how it was nearly 60 years ago, which is surely the most important point. Different days, different ways – it’s as simple as that, in my opinion.

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