Thursday, 26 January 2012

Stop Cheerleaders

Midway through last season, I came to a conclusion: cheerleaders in rugby league should go.

I posited this theory on twitter and got back roughly 3-to-1 against including a number of suggestions that I'm homosexual. Whether I am or not is, of course, irrelevant. What I'm railing against is twofold - the sheer pointlessness of it all and the fact it demeans us all.

The first point is entirely subjective. I've never been inspired to cheer by the on-field shenanigans of a group of no doubt lovely young ladies. Indeed, they always seem entirely reactive rather than proactive, as if encouraging my cheers after the event which has already elicited as much excitement as I'll allow myself to feel. There is nothing added in their presence. Moreover, we're in Britain. It's cold and wet. As such, prancing about in shorts looks damned uncomfortable. Far from cheering, I'm more likely to be torn between gratitude for the warm coat I'm wearing and offering said coat to one of the girls. I accept that this is possibly a factor of advancing years and the associated increased curmudgeonly status that goes alongside that.

Invariably, you also get a junior cheerleading squad where a group of very young children wave pom-poms in a barely co-ordinated fashion, often in ludicrously high numbers, instructed by a senior person on the sidelines, invariably someone with the word 'coach' written across the back of their shorts, who might as well be doing the routine themselves and cut out the middleman. This is just cringe-inducingly embarrassing for all who are watching on.

The second point is less subjective. Are we that shallow as a society that we men will only go to the rugby if there are dancing girls? Are we as a sport saying to women that the only way you can participate is with pom-poms? These lasses are put on display for us to judge, to objectify, to jump up and shake a tail-feather whenever the men do something that warrants it. The most common point made in support of cheerleaders to me during my completely unscientific twitter-based fact-finding mission was that 'it gives us something to look at'. If that's the best argument in support, then it's a wonder they were adopted by rugby league clubs at all, let alone that they've lasted so long. The same is true of women holding up boards denoting the round at boxing, of walking blokes to the oche at the darts, of holding up grid markers at grands prix and umbrellas at the speedway. It's window-dressing and sends out a message to any young girls watching that this is something - perhaps the best thing - that they'll ever achieve, that looking right is all that matters. There are better ways to involve women in the sport and money spent on cheer squads might be better spent on the women's game where players are having to fork out their own money to go on tour, for kit, for tackle bags.

Leeds announced today that they're completely revamping their cheer squad. Instead, they'll be having a group of street dancers. Now, I've seen this before when Crusaders did likewise. This involves a group of people who move about a bit, almost at the same time, to a tired mash-up of contemporary pop hits, their very existence the responsibility of the myriad TV talent and amateur dance contests that so occupy the minds of the nation and give the glimmer of fame to the deserving back-story. If that's the alternative, then I retract all of the above, but is the better option to just not bother?

We come for the rugby, men and women alike. Give us the rugby. A pie and a pint and some mini-league at half-time is all the enhancement it requires.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Five questions for 1eague3

There is power in a union and rugby league players are no exception to any other group of workers that they can further their rights collectively much better than if they stood alone. The trouble is, that theory falls apart when people don't stand alongside each other; multiple bodies allow those that would exploit the chance to divide and rule. With this in mind, there are some legitimate concerns over the motives and rationale underpinning the new union - as chronicled in less serious tones here previously - called 1eague3. We come not to criticise, but in an attempt to explore why the founders of this new organisation have done what they've done and where they intend going with it. Indeed, were there not already a union existing, we'd be all for this new one. However there is - the Rugby League Players Association run under the auspices of the GMB - hence the concerns.
Here are the five things we'd like 1eague3 to answer, the better to understand.

1. What is wrong with the current arrangement with the GMB's Rugby League Players Association to prompt this move?
The only possible reason for setting up your own union would be dissatisfaction with existing arrangements. What was the source of this dissatisfaction? Was it raised with the existing union officials and, if so, what were the outcomes of those discussions? What is it that you can do that the GMB currently cannot or will not? How are the aims of 1eague3 different and where are the GMB currently failing to support those same ideals?

2. Was there an approach to the Rugby League Players Association to get players overseeing the existing union?
The major point raised by the originators of this union is that by having players representing themselves, they come into line with other sports. This could have been raised within the existing framework, perhaps along the same lines as the PFA by having a shop steward at each club reporting directly to the executive or by any number of mechanisms. Was this explored? If so, what were the outcomes of those discussions and why were they unpalatable?

3. Why only Super League players?
Other unions for sports players, let's stick with the PFA as the logical and high-profile example, cover all professionals within that sport. Why is 1eague3 restricted to only the top flight? What rights do Super League players think are theirs which do not extend down rugby league's pyramid? Why do the voices of professionals lower down the tree count for less than those at the top? What happens to a member of the union should he drop down the divisions? Was any of this discussed when the idea for 1eague3 came about?

4. By what criteria were the chairman and management committee selected?
There's no doubt that chairman Jon Wilkin and committee members Jamie Peacock and Lee Briers know rugby league, but what else qualifies them to represent their fellow professionals? Was there an election, or perhaps a thorough search for candidates and an interview-based selection process? How was the chief executive selected, which companies were employed to conduct the search and what fees were paid by the organisation? What is the chief executive's salary? Who are the non-executive directors and, again, how were they recruited?

5. The Rugby League Players Association has publicly stated it's concerns over one-eague-three. How do the committee respond?
There are legitimate - on the face of it - concerns expressed by the GMB over the ability of one-eague-three to achieve it's aims. What is the financial state of 1eague3, the back-up and structures that the GMB claim aren't there? How confident can potential members be before leaving the RLPA and joining the new organisation?

We maintain that one-eague-three is a silly name (League13 my backside), but that's a minor point. The above points are the important ones. It's not an exhaustive list, there are probably other questions we'd want answering before coughing up our subs, but the above would be a good starting point.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Wilkin, Peacock and unionisation

Not every mention of the term union is bad. There is power in a union after all and rugby league players can, like workers in any sphere, benefit from collective bargaining and standing together in support of each other and their rights. This is something previously organised by the GMB, but some Super League players don't seem to want to stand alongside their brothers in other leagues and strike out (pun partially intended) with their own union. Jamie Peacock and Jon Wilkin are among the agitators attempting to set up a Super League players association and claim 75% of players in the top league are interested in joining. The GMB doubts their abilities to represent players interests properly and a war of words is beginning.

It's unclear what the agitators beef with the GMB is, but that will play out over the next few days, weeks and months. What the GMB and none of the news outlets reporting on this have seen fit to comment on the new organisation's name. 1eague3. One-eague-three. What the hell does that mean? Fine players Peacock and Wilkin may be, but brand consultants they are clearly not. It's something that might work on a Hungarian car registration plate, but not something that might trip off the tongue too easily. It's up there with maths and crime TV show Numb-three-rs, Brad Pitt/Kevin Spacey flick Se-seven-en and not-much-lamented boy band Five-ive in it's moronicity.

Unions are traditionally named after the sphere of employ of their employees until the point at which they all started merging to form things like Unison, Amicus and Unite. If you're trying to set up an association for Super League players, something along the lines of the Super League Players Association might seem appropriate. 1eague3 is stupid from it's nonsensical deployment of numbers, through the middle bit that isn't even a word to the whole that describes nothing. To judge their aims, we'll have to wait and see their constitution and dissect it, but it's not off to a great start.