Rugby league was short-changed by government, says Ian Lenagan

Ian Lenagan doesn't think rugby league received "anything like" a fair amount of government support in comparison to other sports.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 9:35 am
Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan

The Wigan chairman, who is hoping crowds return in significant numbers by June, says his club are in a good financial position, partly due to the furlough scheme and £1m in Government loans.

The RFL secured two separate loan deals, worth a combined £28m in 2020, and Lenagan is hoping for more to come from the Government in the summer.

"I'm not criticising the RFL but I don't think rugby league got anything like the amount it should have done when you look at how much somebody like Sale got compared with Wigan," he said.

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"I hear comparisons of £6m compared to a million and I can confirm the latter. We took the first loan, we will take the second loan and we will be paying those back over the next 10 years.

"I'm not criticising the RFL. Afterwards, when the number came out about what rugby union got, and the recent stuff with cricket, and you look at it objectively and ask, 'Did we undersell ourselves?' I think the answer is probably yes.

"The social value of rugby league, which the RFL and Ralph Rimmer promote so exceptionally well, is very high in my opinion - and far greater than what we received.

"Relative to one or two other sports, we should have got more."

Lenagan, meanwhile, wants to see changes made to the structure of Super League in the wake of the departure of executive chairman Robert Elstone but railed against calls to reunify with the Rugby Football League.

The resignation of Elstone - less than three years after being head-hunted to lead the breakaway from the governing body - came on the eve of the 2021 season and at a delicate time in negotiations with Sky over a new television deal.

Lenagan, who addressed a number of key issues at a press conference at Wigan's pre-season media day, admitted Elstone faced a thankless task under the existing structure and was never likely to get a proposed £65million private equity deal through as it needed the unanimous approval of the 12 clubs.

"I'm disappointed for him as he didn't succeed as much as he'd have liked," he said.

"I have to say a board of 12 opinionated chairmen is a very difficult task master and I have no doubt we'll be discussing that structure and others in the next month or so.

"There is room for improvement. In particular, I and a number of other chairman don't like clubs voting for something that affects them.

"You can't have clubs voting on whether Toronto should be in or out, for example, like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Ian Lenagan on TV deal, recruitment and Warriors ownership"We can't afford to pay a chairman and a chief exec but we have to decide how to make it realistic for the executive to be able to make decisions and carry them out."

Lenagan criticised his arch adversary, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who opposed the breakaway in 2018 and wants to see Super League come back under the umbrella of the RFL.

"Gary Hetherington has never hidden the fact that he wants Leeds to be centre of the universe and for the RFL, who used to be in Leeds, to be the centre of his particular universe," Lenagan said.

"I think he's wrong and I suspect there's a lot of other people who think he's wrong.

"I don't even know what the RFL want yet. If I was the RFL I'm not sure I'd be wanting to run a professional league when it's been run very well for the last two-and-a-half, three years, much better than it was before."