League's peace meeting

Rugby League
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The Independent Online
If rugby league had a pound for every time that its future has been said to hang on a crucial meeting, it would not be in the plight that it is. There is another in that continuing series of pivotal discussions today, when a long-awaited gathering of the game's Council convenes at Salford.

On the agenda is a re-organisation of the board of directors that runs the sport. The shape of the board is a potential battlefield in the power struggle that has been going on between various factions of the game and the chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, will today attempt to pull every- one back under the same umbrella.

"The Super League clubs and clubs in the First and Second Divisions are entitled to some autonomy, because they have different needs," Lindsay said. "But we are too small to be able to afford splinter groups."

Lindsay has denied issuing a "back me or sack me" ultimatum to the clubs; he knows that, despite his efforts to paper over the cracks, there might be too many tempted by the latter course.

He himself has been reluctant to deny rumours linking him with a return to Wigan, although this week he said: "I'm dug in to finish the job here at the League."

The League's chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, has not been so reticent. He is considering his position and several other members of the board have already announced that they are going. Lindsay wants to replace them, at least in part, by independent directors, from outside the game and based in London.

The meeting will have to decide on the long-delayed introduction of a salary cap for next season. Lindsay believes that a limit of 50 per cent of income that can be spent on players' wages will have widespread support. Indeed, as a measure to save clubs from their own rash impulses, it is already long overdue; whether there is the willingness to co-operate with it is another matter.

The meeting will also hear of an approach from Glasgow City Council to set up a Super League club there - a project with which the Australian club, the Hunter Mariners, have also expressed a desire to be involved.

Lindsay will suggest that Scotland should be one of five areas in which new clubs should be planned. The others are Ireland, the South West, Wales and - despite Sir John Hall's public expression of lost interest - the North-east.

The League needs to be careful. That sounds suspiciously like an expansion strategy - something that the game has avoided as meticulously as it has shunned unity of late.

n Super League attendances in 1997 were the highest for eight years. The average crowd this year was 6,936 compared to 6,571 in the first season of summer rugby, an increase of 5.6 per cent. Although comparisons are difficult because of the varying number of clubs in the top flight over the years, the latest average gate is the second highest since one division was scrapped in 1973. The total number of supporters watching Super League this year was 915,645, an increase of 48,210. Bradford Bulls, the champions, have led the way, improving their crowds by 46 per cent to an average of 15,163, while Leeds registered a 28 per cent rise to 11,005.

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