Transfer ban imminent

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The Independent Online
Great Britain and Australia are set to reintroduce the ban on player transfers between the two countries after an open-season period of nearly 12 years.

The chief executives of the British and Australian Leagues, Maurice Lindsay and Ken Arthurson, met yesterday on the final day of the World Sevens in Sydney, and decided to impose the ban for a renewable two-year period. They will take their decision backto their respective councils and the ban, on ratification, will be effective immediately.

Both countries have cogent reasons for supporting the move, which brings back a restriction abandoned in 1983. Britain has seen a steady flow of top players to Australia, especially since the formation of four new clubs to join the Winfield Cup. Wigan will lose Denis Betts and Phil Clarke at the end of this season, while St John Ellis and Mike Ford have already left Castleford for the new South Queensland side.

The need to protect British clubs from being further drained of talent is shared by the Australian Rugby League. A weakened Britain would reduce the game's international appeal and, more practically, Arthurson is aware that an Australia without any credible opposition would lose its drawing power.

Also, both Lindsay and Arthurson want to stop English clubs from recruiting Australian players instead of seeking out and developing home-grown talent.

There will be opposition to the proposal, not least from the players, whose challenge to the ban which was imposed in the early Seventies brought about its abolition. The two chief executives think they have avoided another legal battle by allowing for short-term transfers, such as close-season contracts, thus deflecting allegations of restraint of trade.

The issue could be turned on its head in Sydney today, however, when a meeting of all 20 Premiership clubs has been called to challenge a bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited to create a 12-club Super League. Some clubs would have to merge or go to the wall, and the controlling body, the ARL, faces being turned into a Murdoch puppet. Any recent decisions would, therefore, be subject to review.

Lindsay, who was due to return to England today , is staying to monitor the position.

Rugby league reports and results, page 29