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Council Support for IMG Grading Criteria

April 19, 2023

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 Football 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.

All 11 eligible Betfred Super League clubs voted in favour – Catalans Dragons were not entitled to vote.

Eight Betfred Championship clubs voted in favour – Toulouse Olympique were not entitled to vote. Keighley Cougars, Batley Bulldogs, Featherstone Rovers and Barrow Raiders voted against the proposals. Whitehaven abstained from voting as they didn’t attend the meeting. 

Seven Betfred League One clubs voted in favour. Hunslet and Dewsbury Rams voted against the proposals. West Wales Raiders, who have opted not to play this season but were still eligible to vote, abstained from voting as they didn’t attend the meeting. London Skolars initially voted no but have changed their vote to abstain after admitting they voted in error. 

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 overwhelming majority vote in favour of the proposals. 

Simon Johnson, the chairman 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, added:  “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.”