Judith Cummins: City's proud Bulls deserve protection

TEN years ago, the Bradford Bulls were the dominant force in rugby league. Not just here in the UK but in the world.

What is the future for the Bradford Bulls and its Odsal stadium?
What is the future for the Bradford Bulls and its Odsal stadium?

In 20 years of Super League, Bradford have been champions four times, jointly holding the record for the most titles.

They won the league twice prior to the creation of the Super League, and have been runners up in the top flight five times.

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The Challenge Cup has been brought back to Bradford five times from the club’s 11 appearances in the prestigious tournament’s final.

And Bradford has won the World Club Challenge (where the European champions take on the champions of Australia) a total of three times – again jointly holding the record for the club with the most wins in the competition.

They were also the first team to ever win the domestic treble in 2003.

But the success of the Bulls extends beyond the field of play. Its connection with, and development of rugby at the grassroots and in the community, is noteworthy.

Bradford’s community work is outstanding. Its foundation received the much-coveted “Foundation of the Year” award this year, and it has worked with more than 30,000 people in 2016 alone.

It runs 15 separate community projects including coaching in local primary and secondary schools. The Sky Try project has been one of the most successful and has been delivered in association with the Rugby Football League and Sky TV in over 100 Bradford schools.

Today, however, the Bulls are a shadow of their former glorious selves.

Worse still, the club and its impressive legacy are on the cusp of being lost forever.

The Bradford Bulls entered administration last month – the third time since 2012.

This was devastating news for my constituency.

The golden era may have passed for now, for now, but the Bulls retain an enormous presence in the world of rugby league.

That presence cannot, and must not, be lost.

The Bradford Bulls need a solid foundation from which the club can be rebuilt securing its future for generations to come.

For the good of the club, its fans, players and staff. For the good of the city. And for the good of the sport.

Rescued, with a future in the league and the chance to rebuild, the Bulls could recapture their past glory and continue to be a positive force for both Bradford and rugby league.

It seems to me that the Rugby Football League, Bradford Council and indeed myself are on the same page when it comes to the future of the Bulls. We agree that rugby league has to be at the centre of any deal that brings the Bulls out of administration.

However I am worried that rugby is of little to no interest, and at best, nothing more than a fleeting interest, to those interested in taking the reins at the Bulls. Not all. But at least some.

There is no doubt that the site at Odsal has considerable potential, which must be realised.

Odsal is the best located rugby ground in the country.

It is the biggest, the best connected, the most accessible.

And it is, as I said a moment ago, right in the heart of rugby league’s homeland. This is the Northern Powerhouse right here.

What is wrong in today’s sporting culture which means that proud sporting institutions can be humbled and shamed in such a degrading fashion? And why does the law not successfully protect our sporting institutions?

It is my hope that Ministers can offer me assurances about the future of community clubs such as the Bradford Bulls.

Assurances, specifically, that our grounds will be protected from property speculators, ensuring that the sport itself is at the centre of any plans rather than the site it sits on; that ownership of our clubs will be scrutinised more broadly to fully assess who is a fit and proper person.

The ownership of the assets of a community sports club is crucially important. It sets the direction for the club, having owners who have a genuine interest in the club is absolutely vital. The assets of a club, such as its name, colours, badge and home, should not be tampered with and not without the consent of its most powerful stakeholders – the fans.

Judith Cummins is the Labour MP for Bradford South.