The Rugby League Council, the sport’s decision-making body which comprises representatives from all three professional competitions and the community game, have today voted in favour of Club Grading - the first recommendation from IMG, the sport’s long term strategic partner, as part of the Reimagining Rugby League strategy.
In a Special General Meeting in Huddersfield, the Yorkshire town where the rebel rugby code was formed as the Northern Union in 1895, the recommendations were supported by a majority of clubs in each of the three professional competitions, and received unanimous support from the community game.
Ten of the 11 Betfred Super League clubs voted in favour, with one absention. (The 12th club, Catalans Dragons, were not entitled to vote).
Eight of the 13 Betfred Championship clubs voted in favour, with one absention. (The 14th club, Toulouse Olympique, were not entitled to vote)
Seven of the 11 Betfred League One clubs voted in favour, with one absention.
The total number of votes in favour was therefore 32, with seven opposed, and three absentions.
Under the weighting system for Council votes which ensures an equal weight for Super League clubs on the one hand, and Championship / League One on the other, there was an 86%-14% result.
Simon Johnson, the Chair of the Rugby Football League and a Board member of Rugby League Commercial, said:
“This has been a highly significant day for the sport and I am proud of the vote of the Council today.
“Our clubs were unanimous in supporting the 12-year strategic partnership with IMG when it was proposed in 2022, and have now given strong support for the Club Grading recommendation which is crucial in allowing the sport to grow and fulfil its potential – on the domestic and international stage.
“We thank the team at IMG for the detailed and dedicated work that underpinned this recommendation. Our own teams at the RFL and RL Commercial will continue to work with IMG and other parts of the Endeavor organisation, notably Seven League and 160over90, to advance the other six recommendations included in Reimagining Rugby League.
“In terms of Club Grading, it is important to stress again that there will be no changes to the existing arrangements for promotion and relegation this season.
“In the closing stages of the season this autumn, illustrative gradings for all clubs will be published, providing all with a clear idea of where they stand, with 12 months until the gradings are updated to determine membership of the top tier competition in 2025. We will also continue to work with clubs to develop the Minimum Standards that will sit alongside the Grading Criteria and continue to consult with Council.
“It is also important to reinforce that this outcome, whilst being crucial to the future growth of the sport, is only the first step. Work is currently underway to further develop the domestic calendar for 2024, deliver certainty to the international calendar and continue the digital transformation within Rugby League that will continue to lay the foundations for a greater return from the sport’s assets in the future.”
Matt Dwyer, Vice President of Sport Management, IMG Media, said:
“We greatly appreciate all the clubs’ input and support during this process. While there is naturally no one set of recommendations that will suit everyone, we strongly believe that club grading, as part of the wider Reimagining Rugby League strategy, is essential to ensure sustainable growth of the game as a whole, and are pleased to see that such a strong majority of clubs agree.
“This is a positive milestone for the future of the sport and we are excited to continue driving progression in other areas over the coming months, including through our work with Seven League on digital transformation and 160over90 on branding.”
After the meeting, two clubs - Salford Red Devils and London Skolars - indicated that they wished their recorded vote to be amended.
Salford had abstained but on a misunderstanding of the nature of the vote - and indicated that they had intended to vote in favour.
London Skolars had voted against, but indicated that they did so in error, and intended to abstain.
RFL constitutional rules stipulate that the votes cannot be changed after being recorded - but a note has been added to the minutes to record these comments.
They would have changed the votes as follows:
Super League - unanimous support from the 11 clubs eligible to vote.
League One - seven in favour, two against and two abstentions.
Total - 33 in favour, six against, three abstentions.
Weighted vote – passed by 88%-12%