Opinion: Rugby League problems across Italy, USA, Ireland and PNG in shortcuts for Globalisation!
By Joel Morgan, Date: 4/10/13
I am purely writing this independently to speak up, after spending 3.5 months for the first time I travelled within Italy and staying with family. Proudly an Italian citizen via Australia and International RL enthusiast.
Nineteen years on from the beginning of the Super League War, the vision of “Globalising Rugby League” is still here, as loud as ever and possesses more passionate pioneers, but still lacks a stronger and fuller team of people from the top-down and is rife with issues across the two hemispheres. There is certainly more nations involved, but sometimes quality is better than quantity. The vision or desire for internationalisation is there but needs improvement in application…. EXCUSE this long winded blog but IT IS TIME TO SPEAK UP “NOT SIT ON THE FENCE”!
The political and decision-making issues among the top across the board is still rearing its head everywhere. As a passionate rugby league fan it can often be frustrating to read or even witness and I believe like many others that it can often stem from passionate leaders going down the wrong path at times (decision-making) or perhaps the wrong leadership to begin with that approach rugby league. I strongly believe more action was needed in the past three years for the rugby league splits, in other sports the international body tries to fix these problems as early as possible and even would prohibit NATIONAL FEDERATIONS participating until there is a resolution, but a lack of full time RLIF did not help.
PNG Rugby League Thoughts
PNG seems to be on a good path with democratic issues seemingly resolved in the PNG RFL and the PNG Rugby League Foundation delivering great development structure and initiatives, particularly among a totally new junior program setup. With the likelihood of PNG entering the Queensland Cup or Intrust Super Cup it seems dreams of international enthusiasts could be answered, providing financial and logistical aspects are spot on. This would no doubt be fantastic for rugby league, genuinely injecting more PNG talent into the pathways, such as U20s and semi-professional competitions, plus junior teams in QRL’s Mal Meninga (u18) and Cyril Connell Cup’s (u16). BUT I’m hearing the unbelievable situation of an ALREADY GRANTED licence for the 2014 ISC not being endorsed by the PNGRFL is incredible – both are factual.
This is where the RLIF, NRL and everyone possible need to step be alerted and do everything possible or the chance for it to happen again will be gone!!
See the petition here by PNG fans here: http://is.gd/7CkHg2
The 2013 RLWC could well be the most profitable yet and deliver a lot of funds (a RLIF with a fixed office and a few full time development officers and staff is on the cards). But the need for instant gratification at the expense of development is obvious for fans. The result is unresolved splits selection issues, lack of exposure, credibility issues, uproar among fans and complete rejection of players in some countries is some of the results!
Italian Rugby League – Thoughts
Italian issues have been there for years also! But before I start I am not a 100% member of the FIRFL, but have volunteered, and was involved in the Barbarian Warriors (for which the official federation FIRL in Australia tried to ban myself for due to club involvement in Australia) against the FIRFL Italia Azzurri. Before I continue I have no problem with anyone involved with the FIRL Australia group or players – fact! Except for some claims made, of leadership (the leader in Italy should be stepping down from his role based on the facts and issues from the past year) and alleged quality genuine development made within Italy.
It seems there is almost a three way split with such statements by an FIRL executive in italy as: yes the Italian-Australian are a part of the FIRL, but they are using the members (and australian group).
The honesty, dedication, transparency and passion for the game by the rebels (FIRFL) has been questioned in public circle – except for international league fans and those in the know. I CAN TELL YOU NOW, the sponsorship in the FIRFL is about double what RLEF was getting with it’s now previous major sponsorship for the Euro Cup and are providing genuine never before seen development in those regions that is still “not in the best interests of rugby league”
I have respected the need not to speak about the issues for a majority of year until recently, shouldn’t this apply to everyone?
FIRL members have repeatedly labelled the “Rebels” dishonest, non-transparent and liars most often behind the scenes. Please explain this promoted DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENT? This year the FIRL Championship was repeatedly announced in pressers to have 12 clubs, this later followed with a presser about 11 teams before the Season Launch and their website had 10 clubs in an uncompleted table and FIRL since stating 10 clubs, but the RLEF state 8 “ITA 4 club / 6 match comp in 2010; 10 club / 15 match comp in 2013 [8 clubs.” But the numbers do not add up for matches according to the website. Half the clubs played 1 championship game (or none) according to results; Tirreno Sharks played XIII della Ghirlandina only once with the Tirreno official has continued to ridicule Rebel development from earlier this. The NE Italian (Padova, VE) conference is unclear in regards to teams (outside of Este Rams) and results. Credit where it is due, the North West competition appears under positive conference management (led by Kelly Rolleston).
Where is the Firenze RL? Why did Tirreno Sharks and XIII della ghirlandina play only one match in the championship? And others with similar amount of regular season matches.
Where is Parma RL, Padova 555 RL and Melma Silea RL from 2012? Where is clear evidence from all Central and North East matches and teams from the last three years?
In 2002 (with beginnings in 1995), FIRL initiated its movement in Italy, after 11 years the federation has a championship (North) with 1-3 rounds each of the three conferences before finals for 8-10 clubs.
In 2010, another federation (FIRFL) began its domestic activity (but went independent early) and now have a 9 clubs with three conferences (North, Central & South) in their championship with 3-6 rounds per conference. 56 total affiliated clubs spread across three tiers.
An Italian World Cup team with 5 key executive members living outside of Italy, no Italian sponsor (lost sponsors), Italian Launch for the Rugby League World Cup Launch in Sydney, a cancelled training camp in Italy with the training camp now in Sydney, and question marks over domestic movement that is reportedly STRONG DEVELOPMENT AND LENGTHY. I can admit these Australian-Italian members do a lot of hard for the world cup (sponsors, heritage players, fundraisers, funds, promotion in Australia). BUT for a RLWC this is severely lacking in exposure at present in Italy, this could be different if the code was united as the rebel body (FIRFL) has a lot of good media contacts in newspapers, television and rugby. Before I continue I have no problem with anyone involved with the FIRL Australia group, but the claims made and lack of leadership and quality genuine development made within Italy.
Only two domestic players are involved in the national squad, while 2000 members/participants in the rebels (FIRFL) are effectively banned or “non-existent” and “not in the best interests of rugby league” after a quote from the FIRL President (in Brisbane): “this elite italia team is a credit to the board and a result of a lengthy domestic and international campaign… it also shows the transparency and opportunities given to all Italians playing Rugby league.
The RLWC squad I believe should have had a good mix between NRL/committed heritage players and domestic players in Italy (large emphasis of the squad on locals participation) – this is simply a compromise. There are plenty of professional players involved in Rugby League in the rebel’s competition for example, currently and previous players involved in the top union competition in Italy and some representing national teams in the 7 and XV men codes. One young player from a Roma pro union club and Gladiators Roma XIII now based in Australia had a lot of talent: strength, speed and defence. After 11 years of the return of rugby league in Italy there was plenty of time to develop rugby players in Italy into Italian Rugby League representatives at the world cup and provide an opportunity to those outside the professional elite (in XV Azzurri and franchises).
WHERE IS THE DEMOCRACY?
- The executive should be members of clubs within Italy, NOT mostly based in foreign countries. This shows the home of a federation is not in Italy (this is the mere truth, not questioning the passion or worth of anyone).
-FIRL want the statute divided into four main regional committees with always a set number of votes for each, so if CENTRAL had 20 members and NW had 8 votes (even with 4 members) it would not matter. This simply does NOT reflect the Number of clubs or Domestic Development. Add in the FIRL would add further votes from three foreign sub-committees (AUS, ENG and FRA) and others such as Referees, Players, Coaches, etc. One can see this is NOT DEMOCRATIC (and there is evidence of this…)
-Hence, 1 vote per 1 team.
Not everyone has to be on the executive board but I think can still have a good say or be involved with strengthening rugby league in their club or area. The potential for Italian Rugby League is no doubt large, especially for initiatives to increase the recruitment of Italian youth and senior men players into national conference, semi-professional or professional clubs in France or England and female rugby league!
USA Rugby League Thoughts:
There was recent hope for USA with the former AMNRL president and colleague stepping down, which opened the door for some USARL players in the remaining Colonial Cup matches with some dominating those matches. Until the release of the USA Tomahawks RLWC squad today that has seen almost a full squad of heritage Australian and New Zealand (American Samoan) players selected that still shows ties to former colleagues among the selectors. As an American fan stated “The need for instant gratification is sickening. No vision. No hope,” the message being lack of genuine development focus and full focus on heritage, which ultimately comes down to selection and politics. AMNRL for three years have stated LOYALTY with STRONG DEVELOPMENT to those teams and players that held together and committed with the AMNRL. That has now gone out the window! Some leading players such as Curtis Cunz and Apple Pope who have been in the national team, have now been thrown out together with many other talented domestic players. Another fan comment “The fact that Niu, Vassy, Flint, Johnson, Smith are not accessible or accountable is….”
With many American Samoans involved in the USA Tomahawks perhaps a better idea could have been the creation of a American Samoan national side (like in Soccer/Football and previously Rugby Union) and harvest the initial domestic interest in American Samoa for a championship, not self-interest.
One of the most respected men in Rugby League across the globe, Spinner Howland had this to say: “I do not care if the guys who missed out played for the AMNRL (or) the USARL, the bottom line is the selection of the USA National Team is a total joke, and I can tell you FIRST HAND as an owner of a team in the USA that it has dealt a HUGE blow to the development of the sport here.
The USA Team Manager needs to find some courage and do the right thing about this.
If the USA National Rugby LEAGUE team selectors ever wanted to encourage domestic players in the USA to consider trying their hand at 7's Rugby UNION, then this is the best thing they could have done. No matter how good a player you are, or how much time you dedicate to LEAGUE in the USA, you are going to be overlooked and replaced with some guys who have NEVER ONCE played on US Soil and do no have a USA Passport. You really do have a better chance at making the USA 7's UNION team for the Olympics!! Again, not the players, the SELECTORS and the RULES that govern selection for the Rugby League World Cup 2013 RLWC.
How about finding some courage to do the right thing!!”
See Spinner Howland talk on the recent US RLWC selections
Ireland Rugby League Thoughts
Issues are again present in Ireland, but ignored or not made public. From over 20 teams in 2012 it has shrivelled to 10 teams and while Northern Ireland was government recognised this year the competition does not exist anymore!! How is this transparency?
From various people involved in Ireland: “Gordon Matthews has been a disastrous choice as head of the RLI, his preference for RU has been made obvious to lots of people, he has alienated people who previously worked tirelessly to get RL moving in the right direction and he is picking up a pay cheque for development work whilst presiding over an RLI competition that has shrivelled back to only 10 clubs and saw the Ulster competition fold completely. He should resign with immediate effect"
“the Kerry Kings, The Munster Students, UCC, The Kilkenny wildcats, The Leinster students, the waterford vikings, The North Kildare Knights, The whole of Rugby League Ulster, Dublin Blues, North Dublin Eagles, back into existence, If the RLI just had the teams and players they had under the old volunteer organization that would be better than what we have now that they spending 100k a year, on what i am not sure???.... Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh but as a fan and someone who was very much involved I don't want to see smiles and pints, I wanna see us to bring Rugby League to Irish people and them to adopt it as their sport, not a sideshow to "the better code" as i believe it is known.”
“I am born and bred Rugby League, I have been involved with RLI as a Player, Coach, with Domestic and Rep footy for 8 years. I believe this is the worst I have seen the code in that time, since Gordon Mathews has been in charge we have progressively and aggressively gone backwards.
I also think it is time for some new Blood and fresh Idea's, if it wasn't for people 'slagging off' or voicing their opinion then you would think reading any of Gordons articles that this is the best Rugby League has ever done in Ireland, and that is far from the truth.
Gordon Stated in his last interview how well the Ulster comp is doing, and it now has 7 teams, when in fact the comp fell over and we are down to 10 or less in the whole country.
in the amateur era we would get 20+ to the AGM, now they are lucky to get 5 or 6 ! and dont get me started about the way the AGM's are run.. Gordon Mathews MUST GO, before we are down to a couple teams playing friendlies, if we're lucky !”
“The 1995 Emerging nations got it right, for Ireland at least, a few current pros, a few ex pros and a sizeable number of domestic comp players. Legitimacy has been sacrificed because of the need for quality. Ireland is being touted as a first tier nation, despite its lack of a decent domestic comp. And how the hell are you gonna attract people to the game when they see they have no chance of representing their country at the highest level because some heritage guy will be parachuted in at the last minute”
It is obvious these issues need to be addressed now before it is too late! Not swept under the carpet or hoped they are solved. Fence sitting and political spin is not a solution, genuine action is. Next blog will address HOW TO FIX or METHODS to approach nations as the same method is not always best for every nation or region!