FORMER LEEDS Rhinos player and Batley Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin has accused the Rugby Football League (RFL) of “mismanaging our game”.
Diskin hit out ahead of a return to Toulouse with his new club Oldham in the Betfred Championship next month.
The 38-year-old was in charge of Batley last August when young player Archie Bruce was found dead in his hotel room after making his debut away to Toulouse.
Diskin was present during attempts to revive Bruce and revealed that experience – and the aftermath of the tragedy – led to a recurrence of depression he had suffered since 2010 when he moved to Bradford Bulls from Leeds.
The situation was made worse, Diskin said, when he discovered Oldham would be staying this season in the same hotel where Bruce died six months earlier.
Requests for a transfer to different accommodation were, allegedly, turned down by the RFL, but Diskin has hailed Bulldogs chairman Kevin Nicholas for stepping in and funding the cost of staying elsewhere in the French city.
Diskin contacted The Yorkshire Evening Post to voice his anger at the governing body and also his gratitude to others in the sport for their support.
In a letter to The YEP, Diskin said: “The RFL are guilty of mismanaging our game for self-serving interests rather than serving the people that make the sport the ‘greatest game of all’ – that is the players, the coaches, the community game and most of all the fans.
“For our game to really progress to the level it deserves, the institution needs dismantling. Only then can the game move forward.”
Revealing his personal struggles, Diskin added: “Through two administrations with the Bradford Bulls you soon learn who and what people really care about and, unfortunately, it’s not the future of Rugby League.
“My move to the Bulls led to a very tough time in my life in regards to my mental health and since 2010 we – me and my family – have suffered with my depression. This battle has once again come to the fore over the last six months following the tragic death of Archie Bruce.
“The visit to Toulouse in August, 2019, was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever experienced and the rawness is still paramount.”
Diskin revealed how Bruce was found by assistant Lee St Hilaire after missing a meeting ahead of the squad’s departure from their hotel.
Diskin watched on as physio’ Sally Briggs and player Michael Ward attempted to revive him before a French medical crew took over.
“I needed to somehow compose myself to inform Archie’s team-mates of the news,” Diskin, who remained in France for several days to assist the authorities there, recalled.
“The expression on their faces, along with that of Archie the morning we found him, will always haunt me.”
He stressed: “Sympathy is not something I’m looking for.
“These are my issues and emotions that I, personally, need to deal with.
“For six months I’ve bottled them up thinking everything is okay while trying to support everyone involved. This changed when the 2020 Championship fixtures were released.
“I realised my new club Oldham would be visiting Toulouse in round two, less than six months after we lost Archie.
“This set off a domino effect of emotions which was compounded when the itinerary for the Toulouse trip was published [and I saw] we would be staying in the same hotel where Archie died.”
Diskin said the RFL turned down requests to fund the cost of changing hotels, but the situation was resolved when Nicholas stepped in to pay the difference.
He said: “There is a reason rugby league is the greatest game of all – that is the amazing people within it.
“You only have to look at the support Rob Burrow and Mose Masoe have received following recent events to realise how beautiful rugby league can be.
“The friendships it creates between players, coaches and fans are what makes it special.
“I will always be indebted to Kevin for what he has done.”
He also credited the RFL for “the funding they have provided such charities as the State of Mind, the Benevolent Fund and Sporting Chance”, adding: “The latter and its chairman, Colin Bland, brought me back from the brink when I was at my lowest and I will always be indebted to them.”
The RFL issued a statement in response to Diskin’s comments.
It said: “Clubs liaise with Toulouse to directly arrange travel and accommodation.
“Following dialogue we ensured there was alternative accommodation offered for the whole Oldham squad.
“We appreciate it is a sensitive situation for all involved with Batley last season.
“The need for confidentiality means that much of the work we do relating to mental health, working alongside RL Care, the RL Benevolent Fund and Sporting Chance, must remain private.”