New rugby league rebellion surfaces in Europe

By STEVE MASCORD

IN A development best described as “peak rugby league”, the sport now has warring European club competitions – but no actual European club competition.

On Tuesday a group called Euro XIII announced plans to launch a 16-team pan-European League in 2022. The next day, the Rugby League European Federation said it had been working on its own plans for such a league for more than a year and that the new group had no governing body sanction to pursue its ambitions.

“We have been made aware of another proposed European competition set up as a private enterprise following an initial meeting that some of our members were invited to attend,” the RLEF said in a statement.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we were informed of this meeting after it had taken place. This is not an RLEF competition but a privately owned venture.

“It is not an official European competition sanctioned by the governing body. However, we have already invited the group behind the proposal to present formally to the RLEF Working Group.“

The official RLEF league is to be based around major European capitals and discussions with potential investors have already been held. Entry to the Euro XIII – being organised by Spanish and Italian officials – has been opened to existing domestic clubs on the continent with official Dean Buchan saying 25 teams have so far applied.

The rise of another potential breakaway in the sport follows a time honoured tradition. In the mid-nineties there were similarly two warring factions in Japan – Super League Japan and the East Japan Rugby League – but no actual rugby league games being played.

In more recent times a disaffected Greek official set up the World Rugby League which muddied the waters in the International Rugby League’s attempts to gain recognition from the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

And last year the California Rugby League kicked off without any involvement from the national governing body there.

As a sport born out rebellion in 1895, rugby league seems doomed to forever suffer smaller schisms within – the Super League war began in Australia 25 years ago with the signing of players to contracts with a News Corporation-backed breakaway league.

“The RLEF can confirm that it established a year ago an official working group, initially comprised of board members, to explore the opportunity of establishing a professional Pan-European club competition,” the Federation said its release.

“This is an official RLEF initiative and the only official international governing body project as regards European club competition.

“Various models for the format of the league, structure, funding, club licensing and commercial operations have been drawn up, together with draft budget plans. To fund the new competition’s operations the RLEF has held early discussions with potential investors, both in terms of both concept and finance required.

“A new professional European league would be sanctioned, owned and operated by the RLEF, played in major cities across Europe and, where appropriate, work with existing member federations.”

It’s not known what restrictions the RLEF could apply if the Euro XIII was to continue without permission.

But in recent years Greece has been suspended from the RLEF and new domestic body recognised while access to match officials, insurance and government funding could also come into question for a rebel league.

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