Upfront: Toronto deserve a fair hearing

Upfront: League Express opinion – Mon 2nd Nov 2020

Super League’s report into the value of having a Canadian team in Super League is clearly a hatchet job on the Toronto Wolfpack.

A similar piece of work could have been done in Australia in the mid-1990s on the prospect of having a team from Melbourne join the NRL.

There was absolutely no track record for Rugby League in Melbourne, there was no junior development and no apparent interest in Rugby League in a city that was (and still is) dominated by AFL (Aussie Rules).

And yet 25 years later the Melbourne Storm are widely regarded as the greatest Rugby League club in the world, having just won the NRL title once again.

The fact is that none of us know how far Toronto Wolfpack could take Rugby League in North America.

The question facing Super League is whether the prospective owner of the club, Carlo LiVolsi has both the financial resources and the personal commitment to take the club forward and to oversee its growth to be a major player in the game.

Inevitably that would encourage the further development of the game in Canada, as we are already seeing with the introduction of the Ottawa Aces club next year.

One of the oddities of Robert Elstone’s critique of the Wolfpack is his suggestion that the Wolfpack have brought little or no sponsorship into the game.

The facts are, however, that the Air Transat sponsorship was the biggest deal ever in Rugby League history, representing $1.2 million of real money that clubs would have had to spend on flights. That is real money and a real financial benefit.

Again, the Elstone committee suggest that the Toronto sports market is saturated with major clubs representing other sports.

But the evidence is staring them in the face, with average crowd approaching 10,000 attending Wolfpack matches.

The fact that Toronto is clearly a sporting city is an advantage, rather than a negative.

But ultimately the reason why Super League should welcome Toronto back into the fold is that the club gained promotion by right into Super League. But its 2020 season was disrupted, just like many other clubs in many other sports.

They should be given the chance to resume where they left off, especially if, as we know, the new owner has promised to honour the liabilities of the organisation he is taking over.

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