State of the Nation – US rugby league rift

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amnrltorn Just what is happening to rugby league in the United States of America? Today’s news that Rugby is the third fastest growing sport in the country ought to bring unabounded joy to leaguies everywhere. Yet I find the news tempered by the worrying split that threatens to stall if not derail the continued development of the rugby league in America.

Competition for positions on the Tomahawks roster for all internationals is intense within our local player base and eligible foreign professionals. No one is an automatic selection.

David Niu, AMNRL President

The AMRNL is the internationally recognised governing body of the sport in America and is lead by long-time RL zealot and advocate, David Niu. Indeed, without Niu’s vision and commitment over the past decade it is doubtful whether the game would have anything like the footprint it currently has in the USA.

What that recognition means is that the AMRNL control the national team, the Tomahawks, and the wider RL ‘brand’ in the USA.

At least they did until January when it was announced that seven AMNRL teams and two expansion teams had agreed to split away from the governing body and form a new league, the USARL. The driving force behind the division seems to be a philosophical one; with the USARL clubs wanting a more democratic set-up that gave the clubs more of a say in the development of the game and their own affairs.


The ‘Split’ Announcement – USARL
Tomahawks Eligibility –

With the strongest teams joining it, it certainly seemed that the USARL held the upper hand in any pissing match.

But as long as the AMNRL retains international recognition then they have the right to pick or not pick players from the rival league; a potential trump card.

There were (twitter) rumours early this month that USARL players had indeed been barred from selection for the USA Tomahawks’ team that is being assembled for the upcoming St.Patrick’s day battle with Ireland (Donnybrook Cup).

AMNRL president, David Niu, clarified the position (source: WeAreRugby), saying:

Competition for positions on the Tomahawks roster for all internationals is intense within our local player base and eligible foreign professionals. No one is an automatic selection.

It will be an obligation for all players to be registered with the AMNRL as a member of the league and/or affiliated with a club for the 2011 season. This player registration process is available to everyone.

What you make of that is up to you. To me it seems a masterfully diplomatic answer. One that seems to require dual registration by USARL players and thus maintains a degree of control by the AMNRL. Is that acceptable to the USARL and to their players?

More to the question, is it acceptable to the RFL or RLIF? When I raised this with the RFL their spokesman explained the sensitive nature of this issue but assured that talks were ongoing, confirming:

We are aware of the schism within the American game and are working to resolve it.

For the moment it seems that neither side can work without the other. Indeed it may be argued that there is in fact a place for both organisations. Or at least for an organisation that fulfils both functions; the day-to-day running of a domestic league programme and the ongoing development and expansion of the game into new territories, opening new commercial opportunities and working to foster the international programme.

What we are witnessing is the growing pains of a sport; like any other burgeoning organisation there comes a time when its natural expansion is simply too much for even the most diligent and dedicated overseer to fully comprehend, manage and control. Indeed the urge to do often stifles – sometimes stops – the growth.

Let’s hope that a mediated resolution can be found before too much damage is done to the fledgling league; no matter what it is called.