Memorandum by the All Party Parliamentary
Rugby League Group (HON 91)
The All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group
(APPRLG) very much welcomes the decision of the PASC to take further
evidence on the honours system as part of its inquiry into Ministerial
Powers and the Prerogative. We appreciate the opportunity to outline
our own concerns over how the sport of rugby league appears to
be treated within this system at the present time.
Our Group was formed in 1988 by MPs and Peers
with an interest in the sport. We currently have around 80 members
from the Commons and Lords and meet on a monthly basis to discuss
issues of interest and concern within rugby league.
During the 16 years the Group has been in existence
we have contributed to a number of important developments affecting
the sport. Our members were instrumental in achieving in 1994
the lifting of the ban on the playing of rugby league in the British
armed forces, a measure that had resulted in only the code of
rugby union spreading to the many other parts of the world where
the British Forces were based. Rugby league is now a very popular
sport played to a high standard in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Through a range of Parliamentary initiatives
the Group played a major role in forcing rugby union to end its
ban on even amateur rugby league players and stop the overt discrimination
against participants in another sport in 1995. The direct consequence
of this development has been a remarkable expansion of rugby league
in the UK beyond the traditional heartlands of Yorkshire, Lancashire,
Cheshire and Cumbria.
Despite this positive progress and a much improved
relationship between the two codes of rugby, our Group remains
firmly of the opinion that rugby league continues to be held back
by what can only be described as a continuing inbuilt "establishment"
bias against the sport. We see this in particular in the way it
is treated by the London based national media and in other areas
such as the honours system.
The APPRLG have taken close note of the issues
being considered during the current inquiry. It is important to
make clear that our submission does not seek to address the merits
or otherwise of an honours system or indeed its future. Our members
have a wide range of opinions on these matters but we are united
in our view that rugby league as a sport is being quite blatantly
discriminated against within the current arrangements.
In light of the historical evidence that the
game has throughout most of its existence had to battle against
quite open hostility from what might be described as the British
establishment, we believe that the treatment of rugby league within
the honours system is an excellent example of the way such a system
can be argued to exacerbate social divisions.
At the beginning of the current year, "League
Weekly"one of the two main rugby league newspapersran
a light-hearted column of month by month predictions of the events
of 2004. In July it suggested "History is made when a fourth
official forgets to count his thumbs and big toes while running
the interchange system and a Super League match ends up with 15-a-side.
Immediately everybody who gets the ball starts kicking it into
the stand. Within 20 minutes the ground is empty, however 11 of
the players, two water carriers and a temporary gateman are awarded
The piece was obviously a scarcely concealed
dig at what appeared to some to be the bucket loads of honours
given to all and sundry connected with the England rugby union
team success in the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup. The underlying
sentiment reflected a widespread view in rugby league that it
is necessary to stray into the "establishment code"
to gain public recognition in the form of honours.
It did not go unnoticed in the 13-a-side game
that two of the recipients of honours in the England rugby union
squad had previously given very distinguished service to rugby
league without any formal recognition at national level. Jason
Robinson achieved numerous cup winning medals with Wigan RLFC,
as well as playing for Great Britain. Phil Larder made a very
significant contribution to the development of coaching skills
in rugby league as well as being a team coach for many years at
both club and representative levels. The fact that sportsmen of
such calibre have to move from rugby league to gain MBEs gives
an implicit message to others involved in the sport which is not
helpful in terms of its development and progress.
The other message that came over loud and clear
from the awards to Messrs. Robinson, Larder and their England
RU squad colleagues is that somehow British society values their
achievements more than similar achievements in other sports. Our
Group has noted with interest that while 39 members of that squad
received honours, not one was received by any member of the 1954
Great Britain Rugby League World Cup winning squad, nine members
of which are known to be still alive. Similarly, according to
the DCMS (Written answer 43 N on 17 March, 2004), only Chris Hesketh
of the 1972 Great Britain Rugby League World Cup winning team
received an honour and he did not get his until some four years
Over the years the APPRLG have received many
letters from people asking for our support in securing honours
for those individuals who have made an outstanding contribution
to rugby league in various capacities. In the vast majority of
cases, even with formal backing from both the Rugby Football League
(RFL) and ourselves, such nominations inevitably appear to fail.
The RFL has raised its own concerns with the DCMS and been assured
that its submissions have been completed appropriately.
Arising from concerns within the game, on behalf
of the Group I have tabled as series of written Parliamentary
questions to the DCMS regarding honours nominations over the past
five years. It is important to outline our concerns over the answers
which are attached.
Firstly, in an answer on 19 January, 2004 (72
N) I was advised that "Three awards have been made to people
involved in rugby league football since New Year, 1999."
When I subsequently asked for the names of the individuals concerned
I was told on 3 February, 2004 (31 N) that Jason Robinson and
Phil Larder were awarded MBEs in the 2004 New Year honours list
for their achievements in rugby union, "but also in recognition
of their previous involvement in rugby league at the highest level."
Frankly there are few, if any, members of our
Group who are of the view that either Mr Robinson or Mr Larder
were likely to have received such an honour had they remained
in rugby league. We were less than impressed that their previous
involvement in the game had been used to give an impression that
the honours system is slightly more even-handed than it actually
The 3 February answer indicated that the award
of an OBE to the former Great Britain player Alex Murphy in the
1999 New Year honours list was the only one given to the game
of rugby league in the last five years. Bearing in mind that another
of our Group's concerns relates to inconsistencies between the
categories of honours awarded in similar circumstances, it is
worth noting for example that Neil Fox, the world record rugby
league points scorer, who played at the same time as Alex Murphy
and frequently in the same Great Britain team, had some years
earlier been awarded an MBE.
The answer I received on 17 March (45 N) strongly
reinforced our Group's views that the current honours system appears
to have an in-built bias against rugby league. It gave a league
table of the awards to sportspeople over the last five years with
rugby union at the top with 52 and rugby league at the bottom
with the single one I have referred to.
Even allowing for the inclusion of the 2003
England RU World Cup squad this still gives a ratio of 13:1 between
the two codes of rugby. Our Group accepts that there are more
people involved in union than in league but believe the relative
numbers involved are substantially less than the 52:1 or even
13:1 honours ratio and in no way explain this discrepancy.
The Select Committee might also note that I
asked the Government (45N 15 March) to list the membership of
the advisory committee responsible for recommending the awarding
of honours to persons involved in sport. I asked about each member's
background, length of service and particular sporting expertise
but was advised that none of this information can be made publicly
In conclusion, there is one other factor we
would wish to draw attention to in respect of our concerns. The
Government have on a number of occasions indicated a desire to
ensure that the honours system reaches out to those parts of the
community that have in the past been overlooked. Without wishing
to over-generalise, there are few sports in Britain that do more
work in deprived communities than many of our professional and
amateur rugby league clubs. It seems a great pity that those who
have worked selflessly for many years steering disadvantaged youth
towards healthy and constructive leisure activity gain no recognition
because the teams they field comprise of 13 rather than 15 players.
David Hinchliffe MP