Dave Craven: Every pound matters in attempt to increase player numbers

Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
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“LIES, damned lies and statistics” so the saying goes.

It is often hard to decipher just who is delivering what and, I suppose, that is the whole point.

So, this week, we are left to decide who’s got their numbers straight when it comes to rugby league’s participation levels.

The RFL have been a little red-faced after Sport England announced 10 per cent of the central funding it provides to the governing body, to make rugby league more accessible, will now be handed over via the game’s charitable foundations.

Essentially, Sport England has decreed the RFL has not hit its participation targets and, so, it would rather give someone else a shot at making that cash more profitable.

The development has opened the governing body up to some easy body-blows from those suggesting they have largely failed in those objectives set out in the Active People Survey.

Those critics are not without reason. However, the RFL counter that their “own data” shows that the sport now has more registered players than ever before.

Personally, I don’t care who is right and who is wrong when it comes to those numbers and their reliability.

For me, the key thing is that the money is actually staying in the sport.

Given the sum in mention is north of half-a-million pounds, it is not exactly pocket change and, indeed, considering the sport is hardly awash with cash, it does remain critical to rugby league’s long-term development.

The RFL, of course, have been here before; they saw funding cut by £1m in 2011 after again failing to meet participation targets so, rightly, there will be questions asked about their ability to best utilise those funds.

Perhaps it is wise to put more responsibility in the hands of clubs’ own foundations which are growing in numbers and, generally, are full of people who are both close to the grassroots and have professional experience in the game, too; a useful mix.

But surely they will work best in tandem which is how it looks like things will go.

Just last month, the RFL did play a role with Sky Sports in launching Sky Try, an initiative that claims to eventually reach 700,000 people over the next seven years, working in partnership with club foundations. That could be the blueprint for future projects.

Nevertheless, pressure remains on the governing body to produce irrefutable proof that they are giving value for money when it comes to Sport England’s contributions. There must be an improvement from them over this next period or there could be more drastic alterations the next time that pot is divvied up.

It is not only rugby league who have suffered this fate this week with gymnastics, horse riding and swimming all also listed for similar such tweaking to their funding provision.

Sport England chief executive Jennie Price said: “We invest significant sums of money in national governing bodies of sport to get more people active.

“But we can’t ignore falling numbers and missed targets where we believe there is scope for improvement, and in those circumstances we will divert money to projects that we believe will have more impact.”

It will be intriguing now to see how that tactic works. However, regardless of who is pulling the purse strings, every pound – not just every minute – now really has to matter.