Today I have launched a campaign calling for the re-introduction of promotion and relegation to the top flight of Rugby League. In an open letter to the Rugby Football League (RFL), I am inviting supporters of the greatest game to add their signature.
Winning the right to go up a level is the lifeblood of any sport. It provides the ‘dream factor’ that keeps clubs alive and gives hope to fans coming through the turnstiles. Take it away and any sport will suffer at its lower levels.
This is what is now happening to Rugby League. The ‘closed shop’ at the top is beginning to cause real damage to the sport.
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Rugby Football League
Red Hall Lane
Leeds LS17 8NB
Congratulations on your appointment – we look forward to working with you to build our great game. With that in mind, we wish to place one issue at the very top of your in-tray: namely, the return of a proper annual system of promotion and relegation to Rugby League.
We believe this is urgent and essential to the long term health of our sport at every level and we cite the following specific reasons to support its re-introduction.
• It’s ‘the British way’ of doing things. Do we really think that the same old sides year in, year out playing in the top flight is good for the game? If you take away the dream of top flight Rugby League from the Championship clubs, you take away their lifeblood. Where is the incentive to invest in the squad if there is no prospect of promotion?
• Likewise, without the threat of relegation where is the incentive for Super League clubs to improve, knowing they can and will remain in the top flight year on year.
• Promotion and relegation adds excitement and drama to the season at both ends of the tables. Currently bottom of the table fixtures are played out as meaningless games.
• The loss of competitiveness, threatens in the long term to damage spectator and TV audiences for the sport. Too many predictable, one-sided games will make people switch off or not bother to turn up.
We are lucky to have a number of towns across our heartlands where RL remains the dominant sport and we understand the RFL’s desire to spread our great game to new areas. A comparison with top flight football is relevant here. The FA Premier League’s open approach has brought top-flight football to new areas (Hull, Wigan, Reading) and at the same time has improved the competitiveness of both the Premier League and the Championship beneath it. In particular, Wigan Athletic have disproved the theory that clubs must be given top flight security or face relegation.
We urgently need to engender the same open and competitive culture in Rugby League or the game faces slow decline in the long term.
We wish you well in your endeavours as the steward of the sport we love and look forward to your active consideration of this crucial issue.
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP