Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone has defended the right of clubs to decide the future of Toronto but admitted the league is undergoing a review of its governance.
The Canadian club’s application to rejoin the top flight for 2021 was thrown out at a meeting of the Super League board, which effectively comprises the other 11 teams.
Only Leeds, St Helens and Catalans Dragons voted in favour of the Wolfpack, along with the Rugby Football League, which has only one vote, and that has sparked fury among the supporters of the Ontario franchise, who point to average crowds of almost 7,000 in the club’s last season in the Championship in 2019.
Elstone witnessed first-hand the atmosphere generated by raucous fans on match day at the Lamport Stadium but questioned the true value of turnstile revenue.
“It was a terrific experience when I went and I’ve said that before,” said Elstone. “But in terms of its average attendance and what that generated in revenue, I don’t think there was ever real clarity.”
Elstone says the Wolfpack were given every opportunity to demonstrate their case for re-entry and he was aware of the likely backlash in the event of a no vote.
“We gave Toronto three months to prepare its submission and we helped them with it,” he said.
“We took the decision very seriously and very thoroughly and part of that was our awareness about what the reaction to that was. We had to do what was right for Super League.
“The executive came up with a strong recommendation on Toronto and the truth is there’s a governance review under way at Super League.”
Elstone, the former Everton chief executive who is in his third year at the Super League helm, used the system in the Premier League to support his argument.
“Material decisions that impact the Premier League are taken by its shareholders – and that’s the clubs,” he said.
“If the Premier League decided it wanted to change the size of its competition or how promotion and relegation happens, that would be a process taken by the shareholders.
“The business of Super League is owned by its clubs and there’s therefore a strong case to say that big decisions should be taken by the owners of the businesses.
“We’re looking to see whether there’s a solution moving forward, whether that’s a fully empowered executive team or on the other hand, every decision is taken by the clubs or something in the middle that gives protection and that’s a process we’re going through.”
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Toronto, who withdrew from Super League in July, traced their difficulties back to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic which would also have meant them playing the entire 2021 season in England.
Ottawa have put their planned entry into League 1 back to 2022 and Elstone admits continuing uncertainty over travel restrictions could count against Toulouse in their bid to become the second French club in Super League by filling the vacant 12th spot.
“It probably should, in the sense there’s a here and now about this and it’s relevant to the 2021 season,” he said.
“It’s finding the right balance between a medium and long-term decision because all 12 clubs run the risk of being relegated but we also need to be confident they can get to the start line on day one of the 2021 season.
“It should be a factor and it should be worth noting the way the Catalans Dragons have responded and the way they’ve rolled their sleeves up and fulfilled their fixtures within the limitations of Covid.”
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