Super League players need more protection when clubs hit hard times, claims group

The Super League players’ association has urged the sport to make crucial changes to avoid a repeat of the damaging problems that surfaced during Bradford Bulls’ administration.

Ernie Benbow, chief executive of 1eagu3, commissioned research into the effect of administration on Bradford players during the months of uncertainty when financial turmoil hit Odsal earlier this year.

The report, entitled Learning Lessons From Adversity and completed by Dr Martin Littlewood of Liverpool John Moores University, stemmed from interviews with 10 Bulls squad members, ranging in age, marital status, playing experience and nationality.

After Wakefield Trinity and the now defunct Crusaders, Bradford were the third Super League club to go into administration in two years and there is a fear they will not be the last.

“The problems suffered by Bradford could happen to any club within Super League,” the association said.

“No club is immune to financial problems. If a club experiences financial difficulties, then the players should not be an afterthought when resolving those difficulties.

“Super League is the most vibrant and exciting elite sporting competition in the country yet the men who make it such a spectacle feel under-appreciated, under-valued and under-represented.

“It is clear that the players at Bradford could have received better support during that period.

“If the sport is to make progress with player satisfaction then these lessons should be learned and changes made to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated.”

The report calls on 1eagu3 to be officially recognised by the Rugby Football League and to engage in at least quarterly meetings.

“We already have a good relationship with the RFL and the fact we were discussed at the clubs’ recent SL meeting is a positive; we’ve proved we’re not a flash in the pan,” said Benbow.

“But players don’t have any desire to run the game. They just want to be able to have their say and they should be heard.”

Bradford players also revealed they were frustrated by the poor lines of communication throughout the troubles, one admitted to being “quite depressed” while the administration also highlighted the fragility of their careers.

With that in mind, the report seeks the production of a single career-planning service for the players and for counselling services to be transferred from the RFL to improve the trust of the players.

RFL director of standards and licensing Blake Solly said: “The RFL is always willing to explore and discuss ways in which the welfare of players, particularly at clubs experiencing financial distress, can be improved.

“Insolvency situations are difficult periods for all involved and it is imperative that at such times everyone in the game works together to minimise any hardship, financial or emotional, by those who are affected most.

“We read with interest Mr Benbow’s comments, following receipt of the report, in particular the claimed lack of emotional and financial counselling provided.

“It is surprising that Mr Benbow has not fully acknowledged the extent of the support provided to the Bradford Bulls players by several external agencies and individuals following the intervention of the RFL, or by the governing body itself.

“The RFL appreciates the work, expertise and time spent by all individuals and agencies who did what they could to help Bradford players through the club’s crisis and I’m sure Mr Benbow and 1eagu3 join us in thanking them.

“Rugby League has made great strides in player welfare and the RFL remains committed to doing all it can, in conjunction with member clubs and other agencies, to improve the delivery of services in this field.

“Those improvements can only be delivered if everyone puts the welfare of the players, and not their own interests, first at times such as these.”

The Magic Weekend will continue at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium in 2013 and 2014.

Next year, four matches will feature on Saturday May 25 and three the following day with the schedule confirmed when the 2013 Super League full fixture list is published on Monday.