Rugby Football League To Start Year
With Clean Slate

The Rugby Football League will start 2004 in the black after wiping out a ?2m debt, according to its new boss. The RFL appointed Richard Lewis as their first executive chairman in March, 2002, and he inherited the bulk of a ?1.9m debt.

Since then, financially successful Test series against New Zealand and Australia have helped wiped the financial slate clean.

"We're on track for clearing the debt by the end of the year," said Lewis.

The accounts will go before the 32 professional clubs at the League's annual meeting in Huddersfield on 14 January, when they are expected to give the go-ahead for the formation of a limited company.

"It is looking as though we'll have cleared the debt and be in a position to incorporate in 2004 as a limited liability company. That's the plan," Lewis said. "Council haven't made the final decision yet but it's certainly a proposal that's going to be put forward."

The League was still paying the price for an over-ambitious 2000 World Cup when Lewis took over but things have been looking up since then.

The three Test matches against world champions Australia in November brought in bumper gate receipts.

The League also netted a top-up in television fees from the BBC through increased viewing figures, compared to the 2002 Series with the Kiwis.

Meanwhile, the League is also poised to complete a ?63m deal with the BBC and BSkyB for new broadcasting contracts covering the Tetley's Super League, the Powergen Challenge Cup and the international game for the next five years.

"I think the sport should be confident about the future," said Lewis.

"We have virtually agreed the TV contracts, which gives us five years of guaranteed income from TV.

"And, as one of Sport England's target sports, we get a four-year cycle of funding, so we are going to be able to plan with some degree of certainty for the future, which is good."