Chris Chester - Why deny academies to clubs willing to finance them?

Wakefield Trinity head coach Chris Chester admits he is “torn” on the academy debate that is raging in rugby league.

Chris Chester: Wakefield coach has been left bemused by the RFL’s academy decision. (Picture: SWPix.comn)

The decision to remove the elite academy status of Castleford Tigers, Hull KR and Bradford Bulls from 2022 to 2027, reducing the number of such academies from 13 to ten, has sparked widespread outrage in the sport.

It has thrown into doubt the future of hundreds of young players currently playing and left concerns about an ability to attract new ones to the sport at the same time as it is trying to increase participation levels.

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Wakefield were one of the ten clubs to successfully demonstrate they have reached the elite standards demanded by a panel convened by both the RFL and Super League Europe.

However, Chester conceded: “I’ve never understood it.

“I don’t quite get how, if a club is willing to invest that kind of money on an academy, why we are then restrictive on the numbers of academy licences that were given out?

“If a club is willing to spend 200, 300 or 350 thousand pounds on an academy then let those clubs spend that money on that.

“There’s obviously reasons why they have done what they have done. But I am just torn at the moment.”

Chris Chester. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Hull KR have already asked for an independent inquiry into the panel’s decision and Castleford and Bradford are both considering their options.

More than 6,000 people – including numerous leading players past and present – have signed a petition urging the RFL to rethink the decision.

Given the extent of the backlash, the governing body has been asked if it remains confident in the way the whole process has been dealt with.

An RFL spokesman added: “We believe this was a difficult but necessary process to improve the game’s elite player development programme, with necessary consideration for the health of the community game.

“The process was scoped-out in full consultation with the clubs through the Heads of Youth Forum, the Super League Football Working Group and the CEO forums, and has received support throughout. The process, and recommendations of the panel also had the approval of the RFL Board.

“We therefore believe the process was robust and rigorous, and strengthened further through the addition of independent input.

“It is the role of Governing Body to make tough decisions in the best interests of the sport.”

One query is if unsuccessful clubs were falling behind in areas, would it not have been better to highlight those and give them a chance to remedy them?

The RFL spokesman replied: “We would not be acting in the best interests of the sport if the mere fact a club is currently operating an Academy meant they had the right to do so in perpetuity. Equally, allowing an unlimited number of professional clubs to operate elite player development programmes, would decimate the community game at critical age groups and would give players unrealistic expectations of a future career in the sport.

“A key factor in all our decisions is the interests of players. We believe the focus for our elite player development programme has to be the highest quality environments which offer the players with the most potential the best opportunity to progress to being Super League-quality players.

“This was the direction of travel supported by the clubs.”

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