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
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 Huddersfieldthe
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 facilitiesbut
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
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 criteriathe 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 Foundationgeared
to players under 21is 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 organisationrather
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 RFLIf
this is soWhy?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 Councilwhat
grants have been denied to BARLA and the game, that are available
to it nowand 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
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
The foregoing would be the perfect example of
a "Partnership in Action".