By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S customary, even compulsory, when a leader departs an organisation to assess his or her legacy.
If I was a tech roundsman and Mark Zuckerberg quit Facebook, it would be incumbent upon me to write about his tenure.
In the case of Rugby Football League and Super League chief executive Nigel Wood, who today stood down from the RFL, the post-mortems will almost certainly fall into two neat categories.
There will be the fans and media people who will be just one step away from dancing in the streets. Wood has been blamed for everything from falling participation numbers through England’s run of outs in internationals and the lack of overseas stars in Super League.
And lots in between: the indecision over reserve grade, the reduction in Sport England funding, the cutting of money for Wales and Scotland…..
Then there is the point of view expressed in the RFL media release announcing Wood’s departure.
He oversaw the introduction of the grand final, the Magic Weekend, the 2013 World Cup, the appointment of Wayne Bennett, the qualification for the 2017 World Cup final, England’s first in 22 years, and clawed back lost funding by getting plenty for the 2021 World Cup.
The big question regarding all this is whether you think some of the bad things that have happened to the game in Britain over the past decade would have happened anyway.
Globalisation, the collapse of the media, the rise of the Premier League as a global leviathan, the enshrinement of international rugby union in the sporting landscape, the antipathy of the NRL … would these things have happened anyway?
And what could Nigel have done to lessen their impact?
There is no doubt that Wood has been evasive or at least shy in the face of media and public scrutiny during his tenure. His insistence a couple of weeks back that it was not “a fair question”, whether he is interested in the RLIF CEO’s post, beggared belief.
Nigel Wood is actually an intelligent, charming and friendly person. No doubt he is a canny politician, too. But his reluctance to show his personality to the public at large and instead prefer to be shielded by advisers and spin men understandably inspired suspicion and encouraged distrust.
He was acutely aware of the criticism he faced yet never stepped completely, permanently into the open to answer it.
But here’s the rub: if we accept that at least some (I would tend to argue most) of the mild calamities that have beset the British game over the past 10 years would have happened regardless of who was in charge, then we really can’t assess Nigel Wood’s legacy now.
Because the way out of the malaise was to cast as far afield as possible.
With TV rights under threat and the heartland choking, we’ve seen Catalans, Toulouse and Toronto come into the fold in the hope they’ll provide some sort of cultural and financial tracheotomy.
How petty will our whining about Odsal and Leigh’s parachute payments and the Million Pound Game and streaming of the Samoa match look in 10 or 15 years’ time if we have a Super League involving New York and Perth and Boston and the NRL is wondering how it became a feeder comp?
Wood may end up looking like the pilgrim who didn’t make it to the new world; who perished at sea when all looked lost.
Firstly, it’s important to note that how people are remembered is often not how they were, anyway.
Taking all that into account, it is simply too soon to say whether Wood will be remembered as someone who got us into trouble, or took the first steps towards getting us out of it.
Oh, and the idea of him being RLIF CEO with ousted ARLC boss John Grant the chairman? That’s for another column.