Toulouse Olympique remain focused upon their Super League ambitions, despite the bombshell news last week that London Broncos have refused to travel to France for this Saturday’s scheduled Championship fixture at Stade Ernest Wallon.
French club chiefs were “astonished and disappointed” by the decision to pull out just ten days before the game was due to be played, with Broncos Chairman David Hughes claiming it was unfair for London to travel while other clubs in the competition had been given a dispensation because of the effect of Covid quarantine restrictions on part-time clubs.
Toulouse have been awarded a 24-0 win and the Broncos could face further disciplinary action from the RFL’s compliance unit, while Toulouse try to pick up the pieces of a disjointed season which will feature just one completed fixture within the first four weeks of the competition, while further postponements lie ahead over the coming weeks.
Chief Executive Cedric Garcia told League Express: “We’re extremely disappointed; everything was in place and to be let down like this at the last minute is bad. It’s bad for us, bad for London and bad for the image of the sport.”
Garcia said he could see “no reason” why the Broncos couldn’t make the trip, adding: “We’re not asking people to travel to the other side of the world, it’s a short hop to France.
“We were in contact with London about the arrangements, about travel, testing, safety and security and everything was agreed. We put so much effort into this that it’s probably safer for London to come to Toulouse than it is for them to travel to Whitehaven or Newcastle.
“We have chartered an aeroplane, which would land at a private section of the airport then there’s a bio-secure five-minute drive to the stadium; it couldn’t be any simpler or safer in terms of Covid.
“The RFL made its decisions regarding travel to Toulouse last month and everybody was in agreement. As hard as it was for us, it was the only way through this, so we accepted the decision and started to make plans for the London game.
“I have read London Chairman David Hughes’ position, which I understand, but why didn’t he put it forward a month ago when we all met?
“He is saying it’s tough on London being the only club to travel at this stage of the season, but we have to travel 15 times a season and we might have to play some of our home games over there this year. So to travel once to France is no big deal.
“We have always had a great relationship with London, but it does seem a little disrespectful towards us.
“We had arranged to pay for the Covid PCR testers in France, and also the tests back in the UK if they needed to quarantine. We have the same rule in France, when we come back, we have to quarantine too; it’s difficult, but if we are going to fulfil this season we all have to go the extra mile.
“There is a cost to the club now; we have to pay cancellation fees and we are causing problems for other people. It is such a bad message to send out.
“I only hope the RFL has a really strong stance in terms of compliance on these issues, because other clubs might want to do the same. We have to prevent that.”
Garcia said the fall-out from the Broncos’ decision was harmful to the image of Rugby League, adding: “It paints a very bad picture of the competition and our sport in general. It’s amateurish.
“This is the worst PR possible. It was our first home game for over a year. We would have broadcast it and given free coverage to our season-ticket holders.
“Our partners and sponsors would have benefited from the live coverage, but with just ten days to go we have to cancel it all.
“It doesn’t seem right that you can make such big decisions at the last minute.
“The main regional newspaper in Toulouse, La Depéche have carried a full-page story about this. We don’t need these bad headlines. We are all trying to promote the game, the London name speaks to everybody worldwide and now people see them forfeiting games.
“We understand that Covid is the cause of the problem as a whole but it is not the issue here; the game has been cancelled because one team thinks it is unfair on them to come to Toulouse.
“But surely it is vital that everybody pulls together because the image of our game is so important as we move forward with negotiations for a new TV deal.”
Garcia said Toulouse would respond to the latest setback in a positive manner, adding: “From the start of the season we knew it would be complicated, but from day one we decided that whatever happened we would cope with it.
“It is important to stay positive and that is what we are doing.
“We’ve got the two points and we will continue on our winning streak by whatever means necessary. We are fully committed to the Championship and the delivery of this season.
“Our goal is Super League and we are still on target.”
“We’re used to taking the hits. We have had to climb mountains just to get where we are now and it’s not going to change any time soon.
“Every challenge tightens us as a group even more and we stay together, focusing on our goal.
“Nobody knows what the virus will do, but travel restrictions will have to ease at some stage this year. In the meantime we have already spoken to the players and staff and if we need to go to England for three or four weeks, we will do it.
“That shows the lengths we are prepared to go so we can fulfil the season and this is why we are so disappointed to see the reaction of London.
“What has been asked of them is really small compared to what we are being asked to do.
“We have a real friendship with London, they are the closest club in the league to us, but in the end through no fault of ours we are the most penalised.
“We don’t want to win the comp by having teams forfeit. It’s not who we are and it’s not in our spirit. We want to compete, especially against teams like London.”
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