Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
It hasn’t been a great year for the Toronto Wolfpack, pulling out of Super League, players not being paid, and having much of their talent leave the Canadian club, for the short-term at least, to play elsewhere.
Following this, club CEO David Argyle stood down from his position, with Carlo LiVolsi likely to take ownership of the franchise soon.
We’ve heard how many areas of the rugby league world have reacted to Toronto’s 2020 plight, but what about the fans?
Nicholas Mew, an Elementary School teacher in Ontario, Canada, has been a Wolfpack fan since the club’s inaugural season in 2017 and has gone on to become a global ambassador for the Wolfpack as a part of the Team Kay program.
Mew has revealed the toll and roller coaster of emotions 2020 has taken on the Wolfpack faithful in Canada.
“The current climate among Wolfpack supporters in Canada is one of hope, coupled with a degree of anxiety. Every time a positive and editorial or article comes out, it raises the level of optimism. Then a critical or damning piece is printed, and we worry that negativity might influence those who will have the final say,” he told Everything Rugby League.
There is also grave concern amongst fans that the future of the Wolfpack lies in the hands of those who are yet to grasp the results of their decision.
“The fate of the club rests in the hands of many people who have never seen rugby league in Toronto in person, nor have they spoken to fans here about the implications for the sport itself. Their concern is primarily and understandably for their clubs. As such, there is a level of frustration that they might not be looking at the bigger picture or considering the growth of the sport internationally. They have the opportunity to increase rugby league’s international footprint, but is there a “that’s not my job” mentality?”
Fans are also understandably disenfranchised with the previous management; however, remain hopeful that new ownership will reinvigorate the club.
“Toronto Wolfpack fans were ashamed and disgusted to find out how the players and staff have been treated. There’s no excuse for it. While appreciating how David Argyle bankrolled the team for three years at a significant loss to himself, that does not justify the current circumstances. Finding out that players, staff, and businesses dealing with the team weren’t paid on time well before the current situation adds to the bad feelings. But following on from that we hope the new prospective owner’s proposal is given an impartial hearing, and that he’s not unfairly assumed to be the same.
“Carlo LiVolsi has apparently made a conditional offer to buy the club, where he will pay all owed wages to players and staff, honour contracts going forward, and reach settlements with all creditors and suppliers. However, he has determined that it is not economically feasible for him to do so unless the Wolfpack is returned to Super League. Some are hyperbolically and emotionally describing this as a threat or “holding a gun to Super League’s head”, while it’s just a business decision.”
Mew is also a strong advocate for the Wolfpack remaining in the Super League if they return to play, not only because his side would be playing in the top-tier in English Rugby League, but because if they don’t, it could mean the end of the club.
“So should Toronto be returned to Super League? Since the other option is that there will be no team at all, I would have to say yes. In that regard, the vote taken by current SL owners in late October will be either to allow the Wolfpack to return, or to be directly responsible for ending a rival club and damaging the growth of rugby league in another country.”
Toronto’s faithful have also been surprised by a recent statement from Super League chief executive Robert Elstone, who is still not convinced that a Toronto based Rugby League team can work in the Super League.
“Robert Elstone has stated that he needs to see the benefit to Super League of having a team in Toronto, and perhaps one day in Ottawa and New York. We find that idea to be incredible. Other professional sports leagues in North America have expanded to Toronto, seeing it as a huge opportunity. Baseball, basketball, soccer, and recently rugby union. They see the population base, TV market size, and potential for the growth of their respective sports as evident. Perhaps he should give them a call in order to make a better-informed decision.”
A large number of Rugby League fans in the United Kingdom have advocated for the Wolfpack receiving a significant punishment, a proposition Mew has challenged.
“A vocal segment of UK rugby league supporters claim that Toronto must be punished by relegation to the Championship or League 1, citing historic precedent, or as a deterrent to prevent other clubs doing the same, or due to bringing embarrassment to rugby league.
“They conveniently fail to consider the historical precedent of a worldwide pandemic, the likes of which has not been seen for more than a century. Their counter-argument to that point is that the financial troubles at Toronto preceded the pandemic, which is undoubtedly true. But the pandemic directly preceded the club’s withdrawal, being the final economic straw. Without the pandemic the team claim they would have played the season.”
— Sher&Lil (@SherAndLil) October 12, 2020
While there have been clubs relegated in the past for financial reasons, Mew explains how Toronto’s situation is different.
“Clubs that have gone into administration have been relegated – but the Toronto Wolfpack have not gone into administration (UK) or declared bankruptcy (Canada), despite not paying the bills. Trying to get some people to understand that difference is a challenge. And those previous clubs at least got central distribution and a cut of the TV contract revenue. They also weren’t responsible for paying travel and accommodation costs for visiting clubs. Nor were they flying the flag as the lone professional representative of rugby league on an entire continent. You know, if we’re considering precedent.”
Mew finally suggests that if the Wolfpack are not granted re-entry to the Super League, it won’t look as bad on the club, but the competition as a whole.
“As for bringing the game into disrepute or drawing negative attention to rugby league, it is a sad reality that outside of the rugby league world nobody is paying any attention at all. Far from being embarrassing or shameful to the sport, it hasn’t been noticed at all. Or if it has, Toronto’s withdrawal has been interpreted as a direct result of Covid-19. If the ownership bid is rejected, the story written in international news will be of a team reeling from the pandemic then kicked out. Not a good look for Super League itself.”
For now, the club remains in limbo as potential new owner Carlo LiVolsi awaits the verdict on whether or not the Toronto Wolfpack will be re-admitted to the Super League.