Rugby League: Branson backs the Broncos

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The Independent Online
Richard Branson, the British businessman, yesterday bought a 15 per cent stake in the London Broncos and predicted that rugby league could become the country's leading sport.

Branson declined to reveal the amount of money he is putting into the club, but the involvement of such a high-profile figure as the Virgin founder is a major boost for the Broncos and the game as a whole.

"Quite a few people will be wondering why we are investing in rugby league instead of football, rugby union or even cricket," he said. "The answer is simply that rugby league is one of Britain's fastest-growing sports and has been under-developed in the south. But it is a great spectator sport and one day could become the main sport in the country."

Branson's decision was greeted with predictable enthusiasm by the Broncos' chairman, Barry Maranta. "In three or four years, this team will be the force in world rugby league," he said. "There will be no team in the world that can hold a candle to us. We are a one-city team, which is what the concept of world Super League is all about. The challenge to us is how we can tap the massive human resources available to us."

Martin Offiah, who will miss Saturday's Challenge Cup tie against Bradford because of his winter contract with Bedford but who will be available for the start of the Super League season next month, predicted that the Broncos will soon be able to attract more leading British players.

"London has struggled in the past with a lot of the top players from the north not wanting to come down," he said. "But as London becomes one of the top clubs, I think more and more players will want to come down here."

Maranta pointed to the success of the Broncos' junior sides, drawn from local youngsters, as the key to the club's future. "Our under-16 team, which 12 month ago had never played rugby league, is now unbeaten in the winter competition, beating teams in the north who have been playing for eight or nine years," he said.