Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Terry Wynn MEP

  1.1  Rugby League and Rugby Union are two distinctly different games as explained by the RFL in their written submission and by Neil Tunnicliffe at the hearing of the Committee in Wigan.

  1.2  When the RFU accepted professionalism, I imagined that some time in the future the two codes could evolve into one. However, after being present at both the Wigan v Bath games it was obvious how wide the gulf was between the two and that they were indeed totally different except for the shape of the ball and the goalposts.

  1.3  Rugby League is more than a sport, for those in its heartland in the North of England it is a cultural identity, a passion, a way of life. Its history is one of determination to succeed against the establishment, to fight discrimination and intolerance and to be an honest sport.

  1.4  The reason that MEPs created the Inter-Group (ie All Party, Cross Nationality) in the European Parliament was to raise the issue of discrimination. To be barred from playing Rugby Union because you had connections with Rugby League is akin to being barred from playing table tennis because you once played tennis. It was in effect a simple matter of human rights.

  1.5  Colleagues in the European Parliament found it had to comprehend some of the examples we used. The situation was even worse in France.

  1.6  Since the work of the Westminster Parliamentary R.L. group and the hearings of the National Heritage Committee which led to the RFU changing its attitude towards professionalism, the situation in the UK has been changed considerably.

  2.1  Rugby League will always be played in the North of England because of its cultural roots and because of the work of the volunteers who run the amateur game.

  2.2  Rather than be seen as an historical pastime the game has the ability to reach many more young people to enable them to become true athletes, as the modern game requires.

  2.3  The pro clubs need to be encouraged to develop more youngsters and I see no reason why the RFL cannot be treated in the same way as Association Football by the DfEE as outlined in paragraph 5.12 of the RFL written evidence to the Committee.

  2.4  Rugby League demands good ball handling skills, strength and speed. Young people who learn it can develop into both RL or RU players. (The reason the Australian RU team is so good is because they all played RL at school). The RFL must be helped to develop young players.

  3.1  Young spectators want to see sporting heroes, of which there are plenty, in Rugby League. Unfortunately the majority of stadia that they watch them in are decrepit.

  3.2  As Maurice Lindsay said in his submission at Wigan, ways have to be found to build community stadia with the help of the government and local authorities to give the public decent facilities, as in France where there seems to be a municipal stadium in every town and village.

  3.3  The smaller Rugby League communities such as Widnes, Leigh, Featherstone, Keighley etc deserve decent facilities. Some have now achieved them, but others still need and deserve help.

  4.1  The game is a terrific spectator sport but has too often been treated with contempt by the national media. The predominance of soccer in all aspects of sports coverage is squeezing out other games. Rugby League has no divine right to coverage but it should expect respect for the quality of player that performs in the modern game.

  4.2  Sky Sports coverage has revolutionised the presentation of the game, it's a pity the BBC can't compare to it. The problem is that the TV audience is small compared to terrestrial coverage, which helps keep it off the columns of London based national newspapers.

  4.3  The new "Superleague Show" on BBC2 in the North on Monday evenings is a real help, but it shows the attitude of the BBC to a game that is played nationally at amateur level.

  5.1  As far as summer rugby is concerned, I have always advocated the case for it, whether as a teenage player covered in mud, freezing cold and unable to untie bootlaces because of numb fingers, or as a spectator fed up of watching too many mud-bath matches at the same time as being soaked to the skin.

  5.2  The standard of play at present is probably better than it has ever been and the hard, fast surfaces of summer have contributed towards this.

  5.3  Talk of reduced attendances does not apply to all clubs. The biggest fall being at Wigan which affects the total figure considerably, but that is because of turmoil within the club ie change of ownership, sale of ground. Add to which Wigan fans are fickle (I am a Wigan supporter) and the club has failed to promote the game like Leeds or Bradford, also it has no Chief Executive or decent promotional programme. One can only assume the club is waiting until it moves into the new stadium.

  5.4  What does discourage fans are the changes of match dates and times to accommodate Sky coverage. As a season ticket holder, I was tempted not to renew my tickets this season because I missed so many games last season due to dates and times being altered, especially when holidays had been booked around them.

  6.1  Rugby League people are often left frustrated because the game never quite gets the recognition it deserves, never quite makes full use of its potential and never quite exists in harmony with itself. Yet it has contributed for 104 years to the sporting and cultural life of this and other nations. Any help the Committee can recommend for it to continue to do so would be welcome.

June 1999

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Prepared 14 December 1999