COLUMN: Tony Adams’ appointment huge for Rugby League

It may not be the most popular thing to do in Rugby League, but credit must go to the RFL for their appointment of Tony Adams MBE as the new president as of next Summer.

Many have criticised the move due to having no involvement with the sport in the past, but Adams has forged links with Rugby League through his charity Sporting Chance, aimed at sportsmen and women suffering from drink, drug or gambling problems, which he founded in 2000.

High-profile names such as Leon Pryce and Zak Hardaker have benefited from the charity in recent years, after Adams set up the foundation following alcohol issues during a trophy-laden 19-year career with Arsenal.

But the move expands further than the clear focus on player welfare. Adams’ charity work has built his personal profile after retirement just as much as his successful career as a footballer did, if not more. Not to forget his achievements in the sport, however – he captained England at Euro 96 – but Rugby League can learn a great deal from a man who has gone through trials and tribulations to create something positive.

Experience of the 13-man code is of course one of the role’s criteria, mirrored by the appointment of Doncaster CEO Carl Hall as Vice President, but what Adams has is a wealth of experience in managing public image and building his own footprint as a figure in sport overall, not just football.

Eddie Hearn’s recent claims over the salary cap pointed towards the lack of real stars in the game, citing Martin Offiah, Ellery Hanley and Jamie Peacock as the leading figures of old, with only one of them in Peacock currently involved in the game in any capacity. That is something that Rugby League admittedly struggles with.

But Adams’ strengths lie on that front, as he has marketed himself to remain relevant in football almost two decades after retirement, despite never truly staying involved in the game following a sporadic career as manager. The dual-purpose of Adams comes in the form of player welfare and public profile, and his impact has already taken place.

His appointment did something previous president Andy Burnham never managed to: broke the national media. Adams’ announcement made the back pages of the Star, the Sun, the Mirror and also featured in the Guardian as well as host of other major newspapers. Sky Sports’ major talkshow The Debate also heavily featured Adams’ announcement.

Former England coach Stuart Pearce and Wales international Craig Bellamy, both with a vested interest in Rugby League, expressed their delight with the appointment, and added that the sport could learn a great deal from Adams’ plethora of experience.

“I think interaction between different sports is stark,” Pearce said. “There are a lot of different sports which want to go and experience different environments. “Put it this way, I was in at Warrington Wolves on Friday watching training, I’ve got good links there at the club. I went to a concert with the ex-manager of Warrington Wolves, Tony Smith.

“I watched about 20 Super League games home and away for Warrington last year, I go and watch Super League a lot. They need the profile. If Tony’s going to offer that profile and assistance and help, they’ll encompass him with open arms.

Bellamy added: “I grew up with my closest friend playing Rugby League, so I grew up with a love for rugby league off the back of that with Hull KR – he was at St Helens first and then Hull KR.

“And growing up in my era with Wigan, these are some of the best sportsmen, some of the best athletes you will see. Incredible athletes, and talented as well.

“I’m a big fan of Australian rugby league as well and how they market it. And I’m sure he [Adams] must have an insight into that because this is a game which, again, doesn’t get near the publicity these athletes deserve.

“They’re incredibly brave athletes. Every time I see a rugby league player go into rugby union, I want him to be a success. Like, Sam Burgess is incredible and rugby union didn’t quite take him – Burgess is one of the most immense athletes I’ve ever come across.”