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Welsh Officials hit back at
Welsh Rugby League officials and players have responded to the comments made by BBC presenter John Inverdale on Radio Five Live's "Any Sporting Questions" programme broadcast on Monday night at Spotlands, the home of Rochdale Hornets RLFC and venue for this weekend's Arriva Trains Cup Final.
Inverdale had happily taken a comment from the floor about Rugby League's inability to 'expand'. A Rochdale Hornets' club member then came back with the fact that National League Two has Gateshead and London Skolars in it, National League Three has teams like Birmingham and St Albans in it, the Summer Conference has teams from Tyneside to South Wales and new teams such as Bedford are coming through all the time.
He then commented: "With respect, Bedford's just thirteen blokes running round a field, it's not proper Rugby League."
He later followed up these comments by saying in writing, "Don't ever pretend that people outside its heartland have any real affinity for the game."
Welsh Rugby League Chairman, Danny Sheehy dismissed Inverdale's statements as "ridiculous" commenting, "Is he seriously suggesting that a sport that has attracted clubs and teams in every age group and in every region of the UK has no-one who cares about it outside Yorkshire and Lancashire? How then does he believe that clubs like Bedford started in the first place? I suggest that it is as a result of someone, more likely a group of people, who enjoy the sport enough to give their valuable time to it.
"In Wales we are extremely pleased with the way the sport is developing. While not Super League yet, the standard we have achieved in such a short time is breathtaking. Matches are regularly played at top class grounds, Aberavon, Pontypridd and Maesteg to name a few.
"The clubs are attracting top class players and officials from all over South Wales to their ranks, including Internationals at both rugby codes.
Crowds are comparable with and often exceed all but the highest standard of rugby union. Does this suggest that people outside its heartland haven't any real affinity for the game'? I think not.
"In Rugby League over the years we have become used to pro-Rugby Union commentators abusing their position to denigrate our sport. This is an unfortunate fact of life. I feel sorry for these people that they feel the need to be destructive rather turn their energy to something constructive and worthwhile.
"To end on a positive note, every time someone like Mr Inverdale makes such a comment, Rugby League gets valuable publicity outside the heartlands and always seems to emerge stronger. So, I would urge him to keep up the good work!"
When hearing the statement from Inverdale, the Bridgend Blue Bulls player-coach and former Wales and Great Britain international, Kevin Ellis commented, "Has John ever played Rugby League in Wales or even at all? If he thinks that Conference Rugby League is just 13 men passing a ball around then I'd like to invite him down to Bridgend for a try-out and to put his body where his mouth is.
"We had 15,000 Welshmen at the recent Rugby League Challenge Cup Final in Cardiff. If that's not an affinity for the game outside the 'heartland', I don't know what is?"