Brian Barwick's exit is not something to be mourned

13 April 2019 - Written by Zack Wilson

It was confirmed last week that Brian Barwick will depart from his post as chair of the RFL, something about which almost no one in British rugby league expressed any regret at all.

Barwick has conspicuously failed to raise the profile of the sport in Britain, and many are questioning what he has actually achieved in his six years in the role.

This being rugby league, he has been rewarded for his ‘success’ with a new role as President of the World Cup, which sounds like the kind of title a six-year-old makes up in a game of make-believe.

Quite what Barwick has achieved in his spell in the game is hard to see. UK rugby league is not in significantly better shape than it was when he succeeded Maurice Watkins in February 2013.

Since then, we have seen the game in the Celtic countries of Scotland, Wales and Ireland suffer serious cutbacks and have to rebuild, almost from scratch in Scotland’s case.

The way in which Barwick has been lionised by others after the announcement of his departure also seems strange, given the apparent paucity of his achievement.

Simon Johnson, who served on the RFL board with Barwick over the last five years and is the RFL’s senior independent director, asserted: "Brian has been an outstanding chair of the RFL, who has led the Board with passion, humour and skill. His leadership through the challenges of the last few years has been exemplary.”

Ralph Rimmer, the RFL chief executive, said: “Brian has shown real leadership since he took on the role of chairman and has been a great figurehead for the sport. He truly loves the sport and his passion for it, and the people within it, has shone through over his six years in charge.

“He has been a key driver in helping navigate through what have been some choppy waters and now steps down having delivered some real change.”

One wonders whether the men making these quotes actually know what “real change” and “key drivers” actually look like.

Rugby league cannot sustain this kind of thing – underachievers are getting lionised and rewarded for mediocrity with sinecure type jobs, whilst the people actually driving the game’s development at grassroots level are routinely ignored or even hampered by poor decision making at higher levels.

Given that one of Barwick’s supposed attributes when he was appointed in 2013 was his apparently extensive list of media contacts, it was surprising to see him say that he had opted to work outside of the “media spotlight”.

“We tried to do as much as we could out of the media spotlight,” he told League Express.

“I took that stance and if I have any regret it is wondering whether I did too much of that.”

Over the last six years, rugby league in the UK has really struggled to have any of the UK media shine a spotlight on it.

Barwick will apparently be reflecting on this issue in his memoirs, which will doubtless be eagerly awaited by us all.

The fact that he thinks rugby league people will be in the least bit interested in his memoirs reveals a certain self-regard that borders on narcissism.

European rugby league needs far fewer Brian Barwicks, and far more of the type of people at clubs like Edinburgh Eagles, Red Star Belgrade and Longhorns.

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