Bradford’s plight highlights problems with licensing process

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There is a very real chance the Bradford Bulls could have their Super League licence revoked if their valiant quest for survival falls short this weekend.

Given the circumstances, though, is it time for the actual licence system itself to be thrown out and left to rot?

Last night the beleaguered Bulls raised £25,000 from an auction, with Leon Pryce and Stuart Fielden’s Grand Final shirts and winners ring each bringing £5,000 each as the top earners. to get ever nearer the £500,000 target to secure their future.

A massive crowd when Leeds Rhinos arrive at Odsal this evening would further augment the battle to raise the necessary monies and keep them afloat.

But surely all of this unwanted fiscal fever, so reliant on other peoples’ generosity and so unpredictable in nature, is just the sort of drama the licence process was meant to eradicate.

Let’s remember, the Rugby Football League introduced the system five years ago to help raise standards throughout the game, giving clubs targets to reach not just on the field but off it too.

One of its principle aims was to make sure they run a tight financial ship and do not leave themselves open to the very same potentially disastrous threats currently hanging over Bradford.

The latest three-year licence awards were only made in July.

Apparently, the relevant assessors for the RFL had performed a rigorous and deep- searching review of the club’s finances and deemed they were worthy of a Grade B licence.

Yet, here we are just a few months later, and they are on the verge of financial ruin.

It is all very embarrassing for the governing body and their current silence, since a token comment when the Bulls first made public their problems, is deafening.

It just shows that for all its merit – and the licence system has undoubtedly helped some clubs take a good look at how they are run – it has obvious flaws too. I have been a fan of the ideal in many ways, but perhaps the reality is far different.

The Crusaders debacle was humiliating enough for the RFL.

If the Welsh club’s owners had not admitted they were unable to sustain a Super League club just before the announcement, there is every chance they could have been handed a three-year licence themselves last summer.

It meant Wakefield Trinity, who had also entered administration earlier in the year, survived and got another chance to go on.

They are now much-improved under new owner Andrew Glover and, while still awaiting consistency on the park, have made great strides off it.

But they could so easily have been abandoned and the hard endeavours of Glover and co would have been wasted.

Crusaders and Trinity were both docked points last season for entering administration but, perhaps because of those embarrassing episodes, the RFL vowed to get tougher.

So, if Bradford do go bust, even if they quickly reform, they could still be ousted from the top flight.

It remains to be seen if the RFL will have the guts to do that and run with a 13-club Super League.

Hopefully, it will not get to that and Bradford will survive through whatever means.

But their plight has highlighted the discrepancies in the licensing process and it should be investigated.

It is hard to envisage the game ever sanctioning a return to genuine promotion and relegation.

But, given so few clubs are actually solvent and on their own feet, there does need to be a way of offering more hope to those in the Championship.

Perhaps the Grand Final winners could feature in a play-off against the bottom side in Super League.

And, if any over-ambitious clubs are living beyond their means, they need not look at the licence process for guidance.

One quick look at Bradford Bulls’ current condition should be enough to remind them all that anyone can fall on hard times. The fear is, though, more will still follow.