Monday, 11 December 2017

Toulouse ‘Can’t Be Arsed’ with the Challenge Cup.

Championship’s 5th best club cries off cup fixtures for 2018

Twas the fortnight before Christmas, and all through the Rugby League house, nothing was stirring - not even a mouse. As the League world slips into the low-key lacuna twixt the World Cup and the pre-season games, any news (you’d think) would ping straight onto the radar.

However, on a quiet weekend out of season, Toulouse Olympique dropped the discreet bombshell that they won’t be playing in the Challenge Cup in 2018.   Missed the headline? No wonder. To mis-quote former Government sneak Jo Moore, Toulouse found ‘… a very good way to get out any bad news they want to bury…’

And there it was: buried four links down on their website -  ironically, half way down a 250-word  news article about the Challenge Cup -  a 24 word sentence that says: "Note that this season, TO XIII will not take part in the Challenge Cup, to avoid an overloaded schedule and additional trips.”

We know - we had to read it twice too.

At the most basic level, this move gives them a playing and financial advantage - fewer games, fresher players, reduced risk of injury and fewer match fees to pay - over those Championship clubs who will take part in the competition.

Whilst ‘popular perception’ is that RFL conditions says that participation in the Challenge Cup is ‘optional’,  the Operational Rules suggest otherwise (more of that shortly). But we also believe that  a refusal to participate in the game’s flagship knock-out competition runs contrary to the spirit of the game.

Refusing to participate in the Challenge Cup because you want to play fewer games and travel less in order to gain a sliver of advantage shows disregard for the British game of which they’re so keen to be a part, disrespect for the competition and a staggering contempt for other clubs who will (as always) bear the additional cup burden with good grace.

Given that they are a full-time outfit - it’s not as if their players have anything else to do other than travel and play, is it? (The RFL Operational Rules actually only cover the avoidance of ’long-distance travel’ for ‘part-time players’ - but you’d never know…).

A championship club fan we spoke to said: “It just looks like Toulouse can’t be arsed with the world’s oldest cup competition.” And we’d agree.

Avoiding fixtures for operational reasons is, we think, fundamentally a case of ‘crying off’. So rather than just rant-on at what a bunch of small-time chancers TOXIIIC might be, we went back to the ‘RFL Tiers 1-3 Operational Rules 2017’, that set out the obligations that all clubs are (supposedly) meant to fulfil in order to play in RFL competitions.

Given that the document runs to 500 pages, here are the key sections:


SECTION A1 - CLUB OBLIGATIONS / LEAGUE STRUCTURE

CLUBS: ACCEPTANCE OF OPERATIONAL RULES

A1:1 Each Club which participates in Super League, the Championship or League 1, or in any
other league or competition or any game under the jurisdiction of the RFL or organised
by the RFL is deemed by acceptance of the invitation to be bound by the Operational
Rules and each RFL Policy, the Rules and Regulations of any body of which the RFL is
a member (being the RLIF and RLEF), the terms of any agreement entered into by the
RFL and the Laws of the Game and accept and submit to the jurisdiction of the RFL.


SECTION B3: CHALLENGE CUP COMPETITION RULES

B3:1 The Competition shall be known as the Challenge Cup (the “Cup") and the name shall
be preceded by the name of such sponsor as the RFL may direct from time to time.

B3:2 The ownership, management and control of the Cup or such other competition if any as
may in the future replace it shall be vested entirely and exclusively in the RFL and the
Board shall, in its absolute discretion, deal with all matters connected with or arising out
of the Cup (which are not specifically dealt with under the Operational Rules). The Board
shall be entitled to specify that different rules apply to different stages of the Cup.

B3:3 Unless otherwise specified by the RFL, all Members of the RFL who are Clubs shall
participate in the competition together with such other clubs or organisations as may be
invited to do so by the Board from time to time. For the purposes of these Rules all
references to “Clubs” shall include all Clubs which are members of the RFL and all other
clubs or organisations taking part in the Competition whether based in the UK or
otherwise (“Non Member Clubs”). For the purposes of this rule any Non Member Clubs
who compete in the Super League, the Championship or League 1 agree to be bound
as if they are Member Clubs.

B3:4 All Clubs who participate in the Challenge Cup are deemed by acceptance of the
invitation to participate in the Cup to be bound by the Laws of the Game and the
Operational Rules and accept the jurisdiction of the RFL in relation to any breaches of
the same.

and…

SECTION B3: CHALLENGE CUP COMPETITION RULES

FAILURE TO FULFIL

B3:26 Any Club failing to fulfil a Cup Tie on the scheduled date, for any reason which the Board
considers unsatisfactory, will forfeit the Cup Tie.

B3:27 All Cup Ties shall take precedence over League Matches which must be postponed if
the Board so directs.

Draw your own conclusions.

BUT WAIT…

Hot on the heels of Toulouse’s ‘news’ came the ‘revelation’ (via a couple of obtuse postings on Social Media from a couple of ‘smaller’ RL news outlets) that TOXIIIC are to play Toronto at Super League’s Magic Weekend!

We know - we had to read that twice too.

Joining the dots, Toronto have sacrificed home advantage for their ‘home’ game against Toulouse on the 19th May. Not surprisingly, this advantages both clubs: Toulouse will avoid the long trip to Canada that all other Championship teams will be compelled to make, and Toronto will already be in the UK for their game at the Blackpool’s Summer Bash the week after: thus avoiding the need to cross the Atlantic too. All very convenient.

Notwithstanding the weasling round the conditions that every other Championship club has to play under, already Wolfpack fans are making known their disappointment at missing out on watching their ‘big game’ in Toronto: so unfair on their season ticket holders too.

Details on this game are still scant, but TotalRL.com today confirmed that “The two teams will clash at St James’ Park in what will be the first ever Championship fixture to take place at the Super League event after Super League clubs approved the decision to add a seventh fixture to the weekend. The Wolfpack were due to host the French side in Toronto that weekend, but have relinquished their home advantage in order for the game to be staged in Newcastle.”