Farrell’s Forum: Burnham’s comments off the mark

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham
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This week I thought I’d divert my attention from rugby league and focus on politics, to question such issues as why the banking sector was seemingly allowed to control government policy; why there is such a discrepancy between tuition fees in England, Scotland and Wales despite us living in a United Kingdom still governed by one Parliament.

And why the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s former special adviser Adam Smith felt it acceptable, at the time, to engage in ‘inappropriate’ (Jeremy Hunt’s description) communication with News Corp over their £8bn takeover of BSkyB.

Leigh v Leeds Rhinos Carnegie Challenge Cup fri 11th may 2012'Shaun Lunt  try

Leigh v Leeds Rhinos Carnegie Challenge Cup fri 11th may 2012'Shaun Lunt try

After all I’m a keen observer of all things Whitehall, an avid viewer of Question Time and a subscriber to Private Eye, and therefore surely perfectly placed to make informed judgments on all of the above topics.

Of course I’m not, and while I may have an opinion on those subjects I’m certainly no expert, after all I’m no politician, and I would, therefore refrain from passing uninformed comment about such matters in the public arena.

However, not being an expert in the field of rugby league doesn’t seem to be a issue for some politicians when passing judgement on rugby league, namely the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, and in particular his comments on the Super League licensing system.

Now while I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in all things rugby league, I would at least suggest that I speak from an informed view point on such matters having been involved in the professional game, particularly at those sorts of clubs affected by the licensing system, for many years.

In short Burnham suggests that the abolition of promotion and relegation to and from the Engage Super League is harmful to clubs outside the top flight.

“I’ve felt this way for a while but what really brought it home to me was going to Leigh’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leeds,” said Burnham.

“It was a fantastic occasion, we had more than 5,000 people there but it really highlighted to me the effect on the integrity of all rugby league competitions when you’ve got such a gulf between the Super League and the rest.

“I’ve been critical of football on plenty of occasions in the past but when you look both at what happened in the Premier League (on the final weekend of the season) and at the Championship, you’ve got to say they are pretty vibrant competitions.”

But to compare football to rugby league is to compare apples to oranges and is to miss the point entirely.

Burnham was making a comparison between competitions that already sustain full-time professional teams – 92 in all in the Premier League and football leagues – against one competition that is contested by full-time players, the Engage Super League, and one that is fundamentally contested by part-time players, The Co-operative Championship.

In a sport such as rugby league which relies heavily on physical superiority, that disparity in training environments cannot be overlooked as it plays a huge part in the outcome of fixtures between sides from within and outside of Super League.

Also, the fact is, that based on attendance and commercial revenues many of the clubs outside Super League receive they could not physically sustain full-time playing squads – although a very small number already do – should they be promoted to Super League, in a model which facilitates such a transition.

The licensing system allows teams to structure and plan a sensible and sustainable business strategy to allow them to compete long-term in Super League, negating the impulse for knee-jerk reactions and unsustainable big-money signings in a desperate bid to maintain one’s Super League status.

It also gives coaches time to plan for the future and to develop young, home-grown players, the seeds of which will bear fruit on the international scene given time.

I firmly believe that the England side will become stronger as a result of the licensing system, implemented in 2009, although it maybe several years before we begin to witness these benefits.

The licensing system was a controversial policy implemented by the RFL and I don’t believe that they have always made the correct decision as to which clubs receive licenses.

However, the system promotes stability and, importantly, choice to those clubs which see Super League as a viable option and those which don’t.

Burnham’s comments, I feel, were well intentioned, however they were in my opinion uniformed as I believe the licensing system to be positive within our game.

You may however, disagree and if so you can exercise your democratic right to free speech by emailing me at farrellsforum@hotmail.com or by leaving a message in the comments section below if you’re reading online.