Grass Roots Gossip

A couple of apologies are in order, at the head of this week's offering; both to men who can lay claim to being among the most astute politicians of our age.

My first is to Maurice Oldroyd, the schemer par excellence; the second is to a man who may possess more limited political skills but is certainly better known to the wider public. He is Tony Blair.

I wronged both in last week's column, which probably takes some doing, and I'm happy to set the record straight immediately.

Sadly, I erroneously stated that Oldroyd is to stand for office as BARLA chairman, a position he has held for the last four years, I think. It never occurred to me, to be honest, that he wouldn't. He had, to be sure, told me privately that he hadn't made his mind up but being a Rugby League journalist I took that to be a form of `coach-speak' and assumed - just as I accept that Leeds will beat Hunslet in the Lazenby Cup each year (OK, bad example) - that the veteran administrator would stand for office again. Oldroyd certainly has his faults - he isn't the best chairman, in terms of keeping meetings moving along, in the world, for instance - but he certainly has plenty to offer the amateur and professional games and his wealth of connections alone make him an invaluable part of the scene. He is also - a prime prerequisite for any politician who wants to stay the pace - extremely resilient and I've often wondered at how he has put up with extreme rudeness, including on occasions from me, without blowing a fuse or responding in kind.

Maybe he has now simply had enough, particularly as the `battle' (for want of a better word) with the Rugby Football League has been lost. Certainly, if reports I've had from recent BARLA meetings are correct, nobody of Maurice's advanced years should have to contend with veiled threats of the nature to which he has been subjected of late and those who have made such attacks should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I felt similar sentiments, coupled with unashamed patriotic pride, when I watched Question Time on the eve of the General Election. There are not too many countries in this world where the public would be allowed to give the leader of their government the kind of grilling, some of it rude, that Tony Blair was given.

Whether he lied over Iraq or not perhaps only time will tell, but I had been more concerned in a sense over the well publicised although much less important `lie' he made several years ago about watching Jackie Milburn at Sunderland. Except, as I found out this week from long-standing Salford supporter Eric Youd, he made no such lie.

The statement, as in my defence I suggested, was apocryphal, a distortion of what he actually said, but has since entered popular folklore as fact.

I'm happy to put the record straight in the pages of League Weekly. Hopefully, in return, Mr Blair will join the All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group.

One of his first tasks, there, could be to help do something about the limited funds ploughed back into grass roots sport from the ?5bn profit made each year by the state from those who spend much of their time huffing and puffing around, or at least watching others do it.

Amateur Rugby League is likely to need some of that cash shortly as public liability and personal accident insurance premiums look set to rise once more.

This is an issue which the All Party Group could surely get its teeth into. Its no good blaming insurance companies - they have a duty to at least break even - but, as I argued in these pages nearly three years ago, it's high time the state took on the financial responsibility for those people, in any walk of life, who sustain a permanent disability.

That would, of course, mean an increase in taxes but the ordinary citizen would benefit from reduced insurance premiums. `Fault' would no longer be an issue in resolving compensation and the spectre of ambulance chasing lawyers would, if not eradicated, at least be much reduced as there would be only the quantum, rather than liability itself, to debate.

BARLA's polices are, I think, due for renewal in August. It would be good to see some movement on this issue at Westminster before then. * Any news on amateur Rugby League? Contact Phil Hodgson on 01977 515792 (fax: 01977 559343, email: [email protected]).