Keighley Cougars co-owners Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia have today furthered their position against IMG and the proposals put forward in the ‘Re-imagining Rugby League’ plan.

At a special RFL council meeting held in Huddersfield today, IMG revealed a grading system for clubs based on a whole range of factors, including attendances, catchment area, financial accounts, stadia and on-field performance. The onfield performance counting for only 25% of the overall grade

Cougars Managing Director Kaue Garcia made his unhappiness with the proposals to the Council.

“It’s going to be a closed shop. What they are being clever about is portraying this whole new structure and avoiding the words promotion and relegation. Quite wisely, as they don’t get a backlash from fans. But fundamentally if you see the system, it’s designed for Super League clubs to remain at the top. If this gets approved it will cement our future there because year in, year out you’ll be playing the same teams. It should be competitive so fans come and see the thrill you might go up, or support the team if you’re in danger of going down. They don’t seem to grasp those fundamentals. I was vocal against them, saying they seem data-focussed but they don’t seem to understand how important the sport is to communities and towns. You will kill that if you do this. Sponsors.. why would anyone be interested in coming to Keighley Cougars if there’s just that ceiling?”

“They’re saying every year clubs will get reassessed, but that’s absolutely crazy. There are only a few teams that would reach those categories they’ve created. It leaves the door open, it’s a clever way of marketing. They’re very good at marketing.”

|Attendance.. you as one of the categories would have to increase your attendance. But the product you have in Championship has a ceiling. The maximum you achieve is 6,000, it doesn’t matter what else you do, you’re not going to get a crowd of 10,000. That’s a product for Super League because you have bigger teams. For us at Keighley, we will never reach a 10,000 crowd, let’s be honest about it. Our population and area, even with playing Bradford, we’ll hit a ceiling. But if we have a chance to go into Super League and play Leeds and Warrington, obviously you’re going to hit the 10,000. But they’re not allowing us to do that because we have to stay in the Championship.”

“100 per cent we sensed more support. When I was talking there were more heads nodding, in this structure with a closed shop of 12 Category A, if you finished top of the second tier but someone had more points than you in other areas and finished 6th, they would go up and you would have to stay down. If the other teams below you in the league rank more than you.. imagine explaining that to fans. If you finish 6th, you would go up to Super League? What’s the point in the Million Pound Game?”

“I would like to think more people would vote against it. I’m just trying to portray that their system does not work. We’re not against progression but in sport, it should be fair. You win, you go up, you lose, you go down. They’ve tried to turn it into rocket science that nobody will understand and it will push fans away.”

“One of the five pillars is catchment area where they’ll favour the likes of London. They’ve tried for 30 years and it’s never worked. If they’re so data-driven, they’d know that the lowest attendance in the Championship last year was when London played. Expand organically around the M62, but plonking someone in like Cornwall – and I’m not against progress, because they should be trying to expand the sport – and get a point because you’re in London.. whereas us because we’re in an area with other teams, you’d score lower.”

Cougars CEO Ryan O’Neill had the following to say

“I feel it’s worse than I expected, that’s the truth. You’ve got to have a PHD in astrophysics to understand the grading system they’ve put in place. It’s not sport, it’s so technical that it’s going to turn the fans away in droves.”

“We came with an open mind. We were sceptical but came with an open mind and that open mind closed very quickly when we learned of the technical detail clubs have to go through to be graded. It’s just absolutely crazy, it’s not sport.”

“What they’re creating is an elite cartel. The whole thing is elitist and it’s protecting the few. They want to get to 12 category A’s and once they get there, that’s it. That’s what I understood it to be.”

“They’re taking away the opportunity. If we had the opportunity to play St Helens we’d get 10,000 people but we won’t get that opportunity. It’s not a fair playing field.”

“IMG are saying it’s their way or the highway. When Kaue was objecting to it they asked if we’d now given up on the sport. I’m not saying we’ve given up, we don’t like this proposal and there are way better ones that can improve the sport. A lot of teams here today will vote for it because they don’t think there’s an alternative.”

“For me, it’s all about broadcasting. Make it free-to-air and get more exposure on terrestrial TV and let the country watch the sport. That’s what I would do, I’d forget about putting this sport behind paywall but that’s not what they’re talking about, they’re talking about more paywalls.”

“It’s dispiriting. Why would I work my guts off and throw my money into it for them to say well done Keighley, you’ve won the Championship but London who finished 6th are going up. I love our town and our club so we’ll keep fighting, but it’s dispiriting. It’s history repeating itself. I look around that room and I felt like my dad in 1995 and look at what’s happened since then. It’s gone down and down.”

Interview by Mark Stainforth, PA Media