25 years service to
the Rugby League


I enjoy conspiracy theories. That is not to say I often believe them but there is a pleasure to be taken in their complexities and contortions. What they tell us about their proponents and how we all look for patterns in the chaos can be interesting too. For example, I tend to believe that the works generally credited to William Shakespeare were written by him (with caveats around widely accepted collaborations).

However, that many people prefer, and sometimes make quite compelling cases for, other authorship candidates reflects the evolution of the concept of authorship, differing attitudes to class and formal education, the phenomenon of bardolatry, and the unevenness of our historical record.

Perhaps it is just familiarity, but it feels to me that Rugby League has provided a fertile environment for conspiracy theories to flourish, especially during the Super League era. Other sports have had bigger scandals – from Chicago White Sox players being banned for throwing the 1919 World Series to Calciopoli – but I doubt there are many fan communities more distrustful of their sports governance than we are. Why is that? How can we so often have people say things like “If Club X finishes bottom this year, then relegation will be cancelled” without them being laughed at? Even if they are not always believed. I do not think we are an inherently paranoid population, although there may be some cultural suspicion of authority. I think Super League has made us this way and there is little laughter because those types of ideas are not utterly ridiculous based on its history.  

To select just a few Super League era decisions that have been cited as examples of partiality and/or particular stupidity:

·        The election of London to the top flight at the end of the 1994–95 season

·        The refusal to promote Hunslet to Super League in 1999 and difficulties that led to for them and Super Leagu

·        The proposed licensing mini-round in 2012

·        The 2021 academy licensing round

·        Morgan Knowles’ ultimately successful appeal against the ban that had ruled him out of the 2022 Grand Final

In fairness, some of those had reasonable, if narrow, rationales. Using London to boost the sport’s profile nationally was logical if not necessarily fair or certain to succeed. Events in Wales, Wakefield and the West of Scotland saw attitudes to Newcos change rapidly and could have wrong footed anybody. In my opinion, there was and remains a need for radical but sensibly implemented reform of player development pathways. The general impression has not been one of coherent or thoughtful leadership… unless that is what they want us to think and there is some secret, malign underlying motivation; surely no group could be that incompetent!

Then there are things that do apparently belong in the pure stupidity bucket. Championship Golden Point games yielding 2 league points for the winner and 1 for the loser in 2020 springs to mind as a thoroughly idiotic, if well-intentioned and mostly harmless, piece of sports administration. What was it for? I can only think it was to fool us into believing that those in charge are just bumblers rather than a cabal bent on shaping the game to their own sinister ends!

Mark Twain became a Shakespeare authorship heretic on a whim, to debate the riverboat pilot he was apprenticed to, on voyages along the Mississippi. With admirable self-knowledge he described how he initially took his position “almost seriously”, then later “utterly seriously”, and finally “fiercely, rabidly, uncompromisingly”. In terms of my own doubts about the honesty of Super League, I find myself somewhere between the first two steps. I sincerely, maybe forlornly, hope for greater transparency and consistency, and better management of potential conflicts of interests in the post-Super League era. I enjoy conspiracy theories, but I do not want to fall any further down this rabbit hole.   

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Posted by Mild Rover on Tue 13th Jun 2023 7:29 AM | Views : 18427 | Replies : 10 | BACK TO STORIES