Worrying Questions over RFL’s elite academy decision

As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group, Judith has written to the RFL seeking an explanation on its elite academy decision.

Re: Award of Elite Academy licenses for 2022-2027

I am concerned at the recent announcement from the Rugby Football League (RFL) on the award of Elite Academy licences for 2022-27. 

The approach taken and the outcome would appear to represent a reduction in opportunity in the community heartlands of the sport and a concentration predominantly in the hands of leading Super League clubs. It has also thrown up some worrying outcomes and raises a number of questions about its objectives. 

Chair of the decision making panel, Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBE stated afterwards that: “We did not work to award a set number of licences”. This is clearly not the case and is at odds with the RFL statement that there was “an agreement that a maximum of 12 licences should be awarded – up to nine in ‘Core Affinity Areas’, up to two in ‘Emerging Affinity Areas’, and up to one in France.” 

It is this latter part gives rise to concerns that this was about quotas rather than an assessment of record, performance and potential and that crucially, deep roots into the community game may have had little weight in the consideration. I find it worrying that such links to the grass roots of the sport appear to have been set aside.  It is, after all, the affinity of our communities for the sport and the part it plays in the life of towns and cities across the north that is the beating heart of the game. 

This disconnect appears most starkly illustrated by the decision not to award an Elite Academy licence to Bradford Bulls. 

The Bulls Academy has been productive and respected for its work, a rich source of playing talent. Leon Pryce, Sam Burgess, and John Bateman to name but a few of the players to have come through the academy and gone onto star at the highest levels of our sport. 

Bradford Bulls is a rooted in the communities of Bradford, the people and the fans. The club sits at the apex of a vibrant local community rugby league structure, particularly in South Bradford. It acts as a powerful incentive and objective for young local players starting out in the sport. 

The RFL’s decision endangers those deep social roots in an area with a huge affinity for the game. 

I also find it concerning that the club indicate that they have not had an explanation of the reasons that their application was unsuccessful. 

I would appreciate a clear explanation and rationale for the approach taken for developing the Elite Academy model, how this fits with developing players from the community game, and why Bradford’s well established and productive academy program was unsuccessful in that context. 

Thank you for your consideration of these matters. I look forward to your reply. 

UK Labour Party