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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Maurice Oldroyd

  First of all, I must emphasise that I am writing this letter as a private individual and not as an employee of BARLA, who I understand have made their own representations, and, as an employee of BARLA, I support them.

  May I also thank you for sending me a copy of the excellent report on "The Future of Professional Rugby". It is much appreciated.

  Having been a founder member of BARLA and its first professional officer and its Chief Executive for many years, may I, as a private individual, make a few salient points that may be helpful to all the members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chaired by the Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman.

  1.  Last year BARLA celebrated its Silver Jubilee, having experienced 25 years of continuous growth, increasing its membership from little more than 150 to 1,400 teams. Most of this has been in the crucial area of youth rugby which has seen a growth from 30 teams to almost 1,000. Much of the work has been in areas of urban deprivation in the North of England.

  2.  BARLA is a community based sport with its clubs acting as voluntary youth organisations serving their local communities.

  3.  In 1973 BARLA was formed. At that time the amateur game, under the sole control of the Rugby Football League and its professional clubs, was in serious decline. The amateurs effectively had no control over their own destiny. From the day when BARLA formed its own autonomous, democratic body it has been one big "Sporting Success Story".

  4.  The Sports Council has played a major role in our success with its wise counsel and grant aid support for the amateur body.

  5.  It has always been BARLA's main aim to increase participation and provide a recreational and enjoyable pursuit through amateur sport for young people. BARLA have always taken great pride in providing a constant conveyor belt of talent for the professional clubs and the future of the game.

  6.  The Royal Seal of approval for BARLA's community and voluntary youth work was given in 1990, when Her Majesty The Queen opened BARLA's new Headquarters in Huddersfield—the birthplace of Rugby League Football.

  7.  I was proud to play, along with others, a major role in the formation of the Joint Policy Board, of which I was a founder signatory to the first ever Partnership Agreement, along with Sir Rodney Walker, who was also appointed Chair and Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract Deputy Chair.

  8.  The Sports Council has in the past always paid grants direct to BARLA as the bona fide body for receiving such public monies. I recognise, however, that the new system is supported by the BARLA Board.

  9.  In 1995 the game received a tremendous financial boost, when the RFL signed an agreement with News Ltd for £87 million. All credit to Maurice Lindsay and Sir Rodney Walker in bringing about that financial bonanza.

  10.  I was informed at the time by the Sports Council that they hoped that some of this money would go back to the grass-roots and international rugby. BARLA asked the RFL if any of this money would be allocated to support BARLA's development work. We were advised that all the money had been allocated to the professional clubs.

  11.  I did write a plethora of letters to Rupert Murdoch on this subject and I was advised that any investment in BARLA was up to the RFL when allocating the £87 million.

  12.  I now understand that the new agreements with the RFL and Super League still do not include any investment through BARLA for the grass-roots. (Your report, page 18, item 2.7, confirms that the three contracts with News Corporation have been distributed directly and exclusively to the (professional) member clubs of the RFL).

  13.  The point I am making is that a financial change of policy through Sport England has resulted in direct grants to BARLA being reduced. For the first time the RFL are receiving grants previously paid to BARLA and these are scheduled to be paid over a five year period. Indeed it is interesting to note that News Ltd have not made any grants whatsoever to BARLA's development work nor have they given any commitment for the future in their latest agreements with the RFL and Super League.

  14.  There are some who feel uncomfortable with this new arrangement, believing it may make BARLA financially vulnerable and could possibly affect BARLA's democracy.

  15.  Some people do accept that it is News Ltd's, the RFL's and Super League's right to spend their money as they wish. However, I must point out that the RFL is, through the Joint Policy Board, making substantial grants to various grass-root projects which benefit the game as a whole.

  16.  BARLA has always been proud of its amateur ethos and is now the only genuine amateur rugby body in the world.

  17.  Please bear in mind that BARLA's voluntary army makes an investment of £21 million of their time in promoting the grass-roots, plus another £4 million per annum in direct running costs for their clubs and several millions in capital investments in clubhouse facilities. In all there are 100,000 players, officials, coaches and supporters actively involved in the amateur game every week of the season.

  18.  The professional game has had financial burdens thrust upon it due to the Popplewell and Taylor Reports which were mainly based on soccer's associated problems. The Rugby League clubs who do not have the same magnitude of problems, are nevertheless making major steps to upgrade their facilities—but more Government financial support in this direction would benefit the sport. (Your report, page 19, item 4.2 and page 20, item 4.5 flag up these points.)

  19.  Professional coaches and players, with their high profile public image, have a major role to play in attracting young children to our game. This could be done via taster days and coaching seminars through the Service Areas by linking schools with our community based amateur clubs. This would be done without usurping but by augmenting BARLA's fundamental development role at amateur level. (See your report, page 32, items 121 and 122.)

  20.  I must agree with the views of the Parliamentary All-Party Group and BARLA, that it would be beneficial for the game if Super League, the Association of Premiership Clubs and the RFL were to return to a single administration.

  21.  Enclosed is a "Background Information Update" paper for the period from 1994 to April 1999 which highlights the impact of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation on our sport, with particular emphasis on some fundamental financial principles. This is a subject which was debated in the House of Commons in April 1995 following initiatives by the Parliamentary All-Party Rugby League Group.

  22.  To conclude, my main point is that the Sports Council grants have given BARLA the financial independence to develop and prosper over the last 25 years. Take this away now, and BARLA merely becomes a pawn in the Murdoch Empire, with no independent voice.

  I trust this information will be useful to your committee. If I can be of any further assistance whatsoever, please do not hesitate to let me know.


  1.  At a General Assembly meeting back in 1994, the BARLA Chief Executive acclaimed the appointment of the Chairman of the RFL as Chair of the Sports Council.

  2.  BARLA write to News Ltd suggesting a Youth Trust Fund to support BARLA Youth and Schoolboy rugby. BARLA were referred to the RFL, but without any positive response.

  3.  Sports Council Chief Executive expresses the hope that "a proportion of News Ltd monies will go to the grass-roots and international rugby".

  4.  BARLA Chief Executive and Chairman suggest a percentage of the Murdoch contract is allocated to BARLA for grass-roots development. The RFL counterparts turn down request, saying "all monies are committed".

  5.  BARLA object to News Ltd monies being used to encourage RFL clubs to run amateur youth teams in direct opposition to BARLA's Youth Policy, which, in turn, is supported by public money through the Sports Council.

  6.  RFL offer "financial inducements" to the National Conference League to break away from BARLA. Similar efforts were made to encourage youth leagues to defect from BARLA. BARLA clubs and leagues remain loyal to the Association.

  7.  BARLA raise their concerns about the RFL actions by writing to the Minister of Sport and the Sports Council.

  8.  BARLA express their fears to the Sports Council that the News Ltd contract gives control of the RFL to the Murdoch Empire.

  9.  The House of Commons expresses its concerns when debating the Murdoch "take-over" of the RFL, and the possible serious ramifications of such "sponsorships" on British Sport.

  10.  The Central Council of Physical Recreation and its members debate the control that "the media and other corporate bodies" can have on British sport. CCPR members reiterate their views, at two annual debates, that governing bodies must keep democratic control of their own affairs.

  11.  Sports Council Chief Executive agrees to read News Ltd contract in the presence of BARLA and RFL officials to clarify the position of BARLA doubts re News Ltd control of the RFL. On the day of the meeting, the RFL were represented solely by their solicitors, with no senior officials in attendance. BARLA's Chief Executive and Chairman were then asked, "out of the blue", to sign a "confidentiality statement" before having sight of the contract. This was declined, for obvious reasons, as it would preclude the BARLA officials from informing their members of any terms that were detrimental to the interests of the BARLA members. The meeting was then aborted and the contract was not read or discussed. The BARLA Board subsequently unanimously endorsed the stance made by their Chief Executive.

  12.  BARLA's enthusiastic support for the National Junior Sports Programme (NJSP) was thwarted by the lack of co-operation of the RFL Development Executive, which led to the Sports Council putting everything on hold. The NJSP was geared specifically to voluntary organisations and amateur players under 18 and below, linking with schools. BARLA complies comfortably with this Sports Council criteria—the RFL does not.

  13.  The current agreement is, as outlined in the last Forward Plan 1994-98, that the RFL play the Professional Academy League at under 19 level, whilst BARLA plays at under 18 and all ages below.

  14.  At the moment, there is a "one year experimental period" for joint youth internationals at under 18 level. The whole position will be reviewed after the visit of the Australian Schoolboys in December 1999.

  15.  The Rugby League Foundation—geared to players under 21—is currently under investigation by the Inland Revenue and the Charity Commission, as £2 million has been spent without authorisation of the Trustees. The RFL Directors apparently took over the duties of the Trustees, without their knowledge, during the period 1992 to 1997. This, despite a plethora of letters from the BARLA Chief Executive asking for an updated position of the Foundation.

  16.  BARLA has in its possession a copy of the News Ltd contract, which, according to legal opinions, gives control of the RFL to Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd. If this is so, should the Sports Council pay public grant to such an organisation—rather than the democratic amateur body BARLA with its proven track record? This question was asked to the Sports Council a few short years ago. The answer received was "we understand the News Ltd contract is a normal sponsorship". This, however, does not appear to be the situation.

  17.  In view of the grave doubts about the News Ltd contract, and the fact that the RFL is the Governing body for the professional game only, as per the 1974 tri-partite agreement with the Sports Council, should not all grants for the current Forward Plan be "ring-fenced" to BARLA as agreed, at this stage, through the "Joint Policy Board"? Apparently the Sports Council may have paid such a grant direct to the RFL—If this is so—Why?—bearing in mind the foregoing and the fact that the RFL is currently under investigation by the Charity Commissioners and the Inland Revenue.

  18.  The biggest problem preventing harmony between BARLA and the RFL has always been "youth rugby" and it still is, despite the progress being made. The RFL have periodically tried to get control of BARLA Youth Rugby. In 1981 and 1992 efforts were made to form amateur youth leagues in direct opposition to BARLA. Pleasingly, in both cases, the Sports Council, through their Chairmen, Dick Jeeps and Sir Peter Yarranton, insisted that the RFL honour their 1974 agreement which transferred the control of all amateur rugby to BARLA. Sadly, over recent years (ie prior to the formation of the Joint Policy Board) the Sports Council have not made the same strong stance to defend BARLA's sovereignty, against the RFL's blatant attempts to dismember BARLA.

  19.  During the last few years there has constantly been the strong inference to our members, that the Sports Council would stop grants to the game and BARLA, unless BARLA and the RFL came to an agreement on youth rugby. Quite simply the Sports Council should have reiterated, in the strongest possible terms, the stances made by its previous Chairmen, that the RFL should honour their voluntary agreement made with BARLA and that the Sports Council was pleased with BARLA's progress, particularly in youth rugby and on the international scene.

  20.  During this frustrating period one fundamental question has not been answered by the Sports Council—what grants have been denied to BARLA and the game, that are available to it now—and why?

  21.  During the three years of Super League to date, no monies from News Ltd have been invested in the grass-roots through BARLA. In the meantime the RFL, and its professional clubs, are benefiting from their partnership with BARLA, particularly through the 900 plus youth and junior teams based at voluntary clubs within their local community, which are the passport to public grants. Indeed grants from the Sports Council normally geared to BARLA are now being shared with the professional game for an agreed five-year period. Yet no reciprocal financial arrangements for the same period have been made with BARLA from the Murdoch monies of £87 million. It does appear that News Ltd have successfully locked into public monies for a five year period, without any financial commitment whatsover on their behalf to invest directly into the grass-roots of the sport through BARLA for a similar period of time.

  22.  When one considers that it costs as much as £3,000 per annum to run an amateur team, it is clear that BARLA's 1,400 teams are investing over £4 million per annum into the grass-roots of the game. This excludes the terrific ongoing capital investment in clubhouse and playing facilities, and the many thousands of voluntary hours work by over 100,000 players, coaches, officials, committee members and supporters who are actively involved in the amateur game every week of the season.

  23.  The ideal financial strategy, as in the past with the Sports Council, is for the maximum grants possible to go direct to BARLA to cover its core expenses and development work, with the RFL giving their best possible support, which could now include backing from News Ltd. This proven policy gives BARLA and its members the "Blue Chip" stability of Sports Council grants, which have been the "bedrock" of BARLA's progress.

  The foregoing would be the perfect example of a "Partnership in Action".

October 1999

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Prepared 14 December 1999