As the new year kicks off with lots of great news from around the world, one of the countries that potentially offered so much during the Rugby League World Cup have shown that life back home is rocky at best. The American National Rugby League (AMNRL), who control the USA Tomahawks national team and competed at the RLWC2013, are in turmoil with emails surfacing over the last couple weeks. The breakaway group in the USA, the USA Rugby league (USARL) however seem to be growing from strength to strength and offered an olive branch.
The USA Tomahawks created controversy last year at the Rugby League world cup on two fronts. The first was that they had some amazing upset victories against more fancied opponents France and Wales and went through to the quarter finals where they were eventually defeated by the champions, Australia. This a positive controversy that a non rugby league powerhouse was able to “shock the world” as one put it. The sad reality was very different. After slugging their guts out for the last 4 years in internationals against Canada, Ireland, Jamaica and South Africa, local American players who were the staple of the team were over looked for wring in Australian players. Some of the Australian players did compete at the qualifiers but many of them didn’t and the fact that essentially no Americans were selected upset many in America and internationally. The “few” that were from the AMNRL were players from overseas and not true locals.
There was a debate weather the local players were good enough to make the team and played at such a high level. Well to this I say, what were the AMNRL doing with their development for the last 4-5 years by not getting any of their local players to that level. As it is what we learnt from the world cup is that second or third string Australians are good enough to compete with weaker nations, and that should be expected since Australia is a driving force in the sport, but we really do not know truly where the USA sits.
During and after the world cup there were reports that American players were leaving Rugby League back to Rugby unions 7s. In essence with it being an Olympic sport now they have a better chance of representing the USA or something that the AMNRL now. At the time it was hard to verify just how real this was but in the last week there has been a leaked email that seems to confirm that many players jumped ship.
The New York Raiders also put up on various media sites their feelings on the whole matter and called the AMNRL defunct, but as far as I can ascertain the AMNRL are not defunct and despite them saying that all 7 teams are still involved, it is hard to know exactly how many teams are left in the AMNRL competition. Time will tell when the season come around.
On the other hand the USARL have announced that the 2014 competition will be split into at least two divisions. Three new teams are joining the competition in the south east, Tampa, Central Florida and Atlanta. The Central Florida team is a combination of players coming from the Florida second division which played for Daytona and Orlando. In the past Atlanta was touted as an expansion team for the AMNRL and used as a way to entice USARL players to jump ship to the AMNRL and the Tomahawks, the Atlanta team never came to real fruition, but with the Jacksonville Axemen and USARL stepping in, a team has been set up. In the last few days it has even been announced that the Atlanta team will be having a partnership with the Leeds Rhinos in England. This means that there are now 4 teams in the south east and the other 5 in the north east make up another division.
The USARL and AMNRL were in discussions to end the split or at least to come to some compromise. I have come to understand that this has fallen through for various reason on both the AMNRL and USARL side. The USARL have extended and invitation to all clubs to join their competition this year (see post here) but as we know they have strict regulations on joining and some worry that this will not allow smaller teams with less money to not compete.
The Midwest competition still has its teams in Chicago and are looking to consolidate this year with games. They are sticking with the AMNRL having had a good relationship with them. More unknown is what is happening in Hawaii and the western part of the country and how they will compete and who they will compete for. The Iowa team has left the AMNRL and are looking at options with the USARL as I understand it.
Either way, despite the mess, and yes the sport is in a mess here in the USA, there will be rugby league this year.
The rift between the AMNRL and USARL does not look like mending any time soon, but it seems that this is now more due to internal discourse and infighting. As I understand it Curtis Cunz had been appointed the new President of the AMNRL. However this move has not been done with the consent of all the clubs and this has proven to be a stumbling block. As I mentioned earlier, the New York Raiders officials posted a month ago this statement not only on Rugby league International Scores but many other websites:
We, The N Y Raiders, an American Rugby League Club, officially announce on this Wednesday, January 9, 2014 our neutrality from any and all elected, unelected, self appointed governing boards, bodies, organizations, officers, officials, negotiators, agents or governors and their affiliates. Neutrality aside, we reserve our right to play and compete in the 2014 Rugby League season. Inter league politics, we determined, may be detrimental to our sport and team, lead to this decision. We remain committed to forming a forward thinking, transparent, elected governing body that allows every club to have a voice and vote in the governing process. This we believe will produce a viable business model structured to grow and promote our sport.
Carl Mariuz President
N Y Raider Officers
You can find the original link here. To further fuel the fire that there is turmoil within the AMNRL, an email from the New York Knight was leaked to the Rugby League Spotlight website (see the article here). It seems that the club is alluding to the fact that the AMNRL is somehow controlled from Australia.
We decided to no longer tolerate foreign intrusion in U.S. RL domestic & international matters. No offense to our friends in Australia but we want the game in America to be run exclusively by people who can physically be present at every game. We strongly believe that knowledge of the local reality and field commitment are the required attributes to move forward and put behind us this delusional hope that we’re about to become professional anytime soon.
Development of grass roots, that is juniors and lower tier competitions, is another issue cited. This has been a criticism and great focus of many fans and observers of the game in the USA and certainly is one that is lagging behind compared to the USARL.
But that’s not what we desperately need at the moment: Without an ambitious grassroots development program and a strong volunteer base, we’re going nowhere!
But the most damning paragraph is at the end where the email talks about the facts that American players have left the AMNRL competition to head back to rugby union 7s and try to make the national team there for the Olympics.
I know you guys think that we “shock the world” at the RLWC but the sad reality is that, beyond the good performances of this 2nd Australian team wearing U.S. jerseys, we also lost a large contingent of talented American players who will play 7′s this summer and pursue their hypothetical Olympic dream, simply because they know they have nothing to play for on a RL field! We literally spoiled a great opportunity to expose our boys (and subsequently our clubs) to top level RL so I personally can’t continue to tacitly endorse this approach.
This shows an unfortunate state of affairs in the AMNRL, one which should never have got to this point Why they are at this point, its still not 100% clear, who or what the failing have been. What is clear is that in 2010/11 when the USARL split, something was wrong in the original AMNRL and instead of the petty games that were played all clubs needed to sit down and make some hard decisions. Back in 2010 if the AMNRL wasn’t broken then the USARL would not have formed. That should have been a sign when it did. Clubs made decision, players switched, promises of world cup spots made and in the end the team was outsourced.
The other issue that seems to be ignored by some is what is William Tatham’s role in all this. He apparently had bought the AMNRL two years ago and of course nothing has been done with the sport or site. In fact after putting that he is owner and founder of the AMNRL on their first website he fell off the face of the earth. To this day no one knows exactly what deal was struck, for how much and how this effects the AMNRL and if any of the clubs saw any money that was supposedly made out of the deal.
All this is small fry in comparison to the governing bodies of the Sport. The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) should have taken an active role in sorting this out. They got lucky a couple years ago when they let South Africa “sort itself” out. I think in reality the RLIF had no power and no means of doing anything there and hoped that keeping their nose clean that they would look good. In reality no one in the Rugby league world really knew there was even turmoil in South Africa and when it got resolved it was back to business. The same attitude has been adopted by them for the USA and Italian situation, however there there are now two established competitions in each of those countries that are not getting along at all and for four years now are no closer to a peace deal than ever before.
The Current LIF board has now grown from 5 to 10. However is still suffers from one of the things that I have complained about for many, many years now. All member of the RLIF have a conflict of interest in that they are also employed or head another national governing body of the sport in another country. It is why we still have all these problems because in the end, problems not being resolved in countries, player swapping between nations in the same year sometimes and lack of clarity in rules, allowing Australia to do its own thing such that the sport is starting to look different from the rest of the world. All these are failings and despite what’s been said it does not look like we are any closer to having any issues sorted out or having a professional and independent RLIF. Until we do the sport will never be taken seriously and issues like the USA split and Italy split will continue to happen and not resolved until finally there will be enough momentum for a second rival to the RLIF.
Here are some website links for the various organisations talked about in this article.
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