THE Rugby Football League is under fire as it emerged Catalans Dragons may not defend the Challenge Cup – after refusing to pay the governing body’s request for a £500,000 deposit to enter.
The French club made history in August, becoming the first overseas club to win the famous knockout trophy, a groundbreaking moment which did wonders for the sport’s profile.
Indeed, Catalans later paraded the Cup in front of more than 75,000 football fans at Barcelona’s Nou Camp and, on the back of that, have agreed to face Super League champions Wigan Warriors there in May.
Yet now it seems Steve McNamara’s side might not even be involved in the Cup in 2019, potentially becoming the first time in the competition’s 123 year history that the holders do not feature.
Only 50,672 fans watched Catalans’ win over Warrington at Wembley, the lowest final crowd since the Second World War and one that left a sizeable gap in the RFL’s projected revenue.
To protect themselves from a repeat, they subsequently asked non-member overseas clubs Toronto Wolfpack, Toulouse and Catalans – who obviously have smaller travelling support – to stump up the £500,000 bond.
Toronto and Toulouse quickly declined but now, embarrassingly for the governing body, Catalans have followed suit.
Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch said, as much as they want to defend the title, it would be “irresponsible” to pay the bond and are awaiting an answer after asking the RFL to “reconsider its demand.”
The RFL said it was “surprised and disappointed by the uncertainty over the Catalans participation in the 2019 Challenge Cup, which surfaced just before Christmas” but will continue discussions to search for a solution.”