The RFL, the supposed governing body of rugby league in the UK, has denied any responsibility surrounding the Celtic “visagate” scandal.
A statement said: “The RFL would like to point out that the awarding of visas is an issue between players and the UK Border Agency, not the RFL. For clarification, the governing body would not refuse a player’s registration if the UK Border Agency approved a player’s status and the appropriate documentation was provided.”
The RFL has asked the UK Border Agency for a copy of its report in to the discrepancies which have resulted in six Celtic players – Jace van Dijk, Darren Mapp, Damien Quinn, Josh Hannay, Mark Dalle Cort and Tony Duggan – being deported.
So far, responsibility appears to be hazy. Celtic are papering over the issue by promoting it as a great way to blood some young Welshman (shouldn’t they have been doing this already?) for the remainder of the season, while the RFL seem to be keeping unusually quiet when it comes to their expansion project.
The six players have been involved with the club since they were in National League 2, and while their holiday visas may have been fine for the National Leagues, it should have been found out sooner that those visas weren’t valid for Super League – do people not remember the fuss over the visas in the build up to the new season, and then miraculously they all came through just in time for Celtic’s opening game with Leeds (ironically their opponents this weekend)?
Two directors – Gerald McCarthy and David Thompson – resigned on the eve of the season, bizarre considering the Super League dream they had yearned for since their formation in 2006 was just around the corner. Did they know something about the visas, and thus didn’t want to be associated with the problems it brought?
These players helped Celtic rise through the lower leagues, and earn their top flight place ahead of other clubs. Sky Sports pundit Phil Clarke seems to be one expert who wants answers. He said: “There hasn’t been a level playing field. For example some of the other sides in Championship One and at Championship level competing against Celtic over the last three years, haven’t had the same opportunity.
“They’ve had better criteria to bring players in but haven’t been allowed to bring them in, so I think that we need this independent inquiry to really see what’s gone on.”
Yet chief executive Mike Turner insists the club did nothing wrong. However, the Crusaders are hardly painting themselves in glory. Only last month, they had to fight off rumours of financial problems, and then an RFL taskforce was sent in to try and help the club with their problems. They continue to struggle to pull in fans in the rugby union stronghold, and have already announced that they are to make the 30+ mile move to Newport for next season – meaning the hardcore fans they’ve actually managed to attract this season are going to be left high and dry, or facing an expensive journey for home games next season.
It appears now that other clubs in the rugby league world are growing impatient with the Crusaders saga. Bradford chairman Peter Hood dismissed the possibility of points redemption for his club – defeated by Celtic at Odsal in May – but said questions must be asked.
“The concern in my mind is how does it happen.
“How were these apparently ineligible players allowed to ply their trade in the United Kingdom? By what process did that happen?
“At Bradford, and I’m sure at all other clubs, we are required to provide the governing body, the Rugby Football League, a copy of the individuals’ visa and his passport and a whole load of other documentation – and presumably that would have happened in this case as well.
“One would have imagined that processes, checks and procedures would have been gone through to satisfy the governing body that every player who is playing his trade over here is legitimate.
“There are clearly questions to be answered by the Rugby Football League so we must wait to hear what they have got to say.”
While Gateshead chairman Steven Garside used the club’s official forum to express his concern over the whole situation. He said: “The problem I believe started some years back however I did tell everyone that they the club were being economical with the rules including the RFL but I also believe that I was wasting my breath.”
All of this has proved embarrassingly that the RFL made the wrong decision to include Celtic in Super League. It was too early for them to be competitive, too early for them to have the structures in place to make a go of rugby league in Wales and too early for them to bring through Welsh youngsters who were up to the standard of Super League.
They can’t go back, but now Celtic face a monumental task in turning round their fortunes – both on and off the pitch. How many more scandals can their be before their potential to attract cynical rugby union fans diminishes even further?
And if the club and RFL are going to deny responsibility for this farce, just who is going to hold their hands up?