In an open letter published on the Total Rugby League website, former MP David Hinchliffe has said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ in response to the recent announcement that Prince Harry will replace Her Majesty The Queen as Patron of the Rugby Football League.
In the heated letter, which focuses on the fact that Prince Harry is also royal patron of the Ruby Football Union and has, historically, shown more of an interest and preference for the game in that context, Mr Hinchliffe said ‘I find it absolutely astonishing that we have quietly accepted at the apex of our sport someone who has never shown a scrap of interest in Rugby League and whose second home genuinely appears to be Twickenham.’
He is, of course, referring to the fact that Twickenham is home to the Rugby Football Union. Though the two institutions have rugby at their heart, there are marked differences in the way they play the game, the rules that govern them and, according to this open letter, how they are perceived by ‘the establishment’. He said:
‘Throughout my time involved in Rugby League I have always had a feeling of great unease about the sport’s continuing desire to seek acceptance by the Establishment, despite the fact that, all through our history, we have been treated with nothing less than contempt by that Establishment.
‘Despite my strong support for the student game, I see it in our copying of such Establishment concepts as the Varsity Match. In particular I see it in the game’s constant desire to get attention, no matter how fleeting, from the Royal Family.
‘How long will it take for the game to get the rather obvious message that they are not really interested in Rugby League and would probably rather prefer it if we all quietly went away?’
Mr Hinchliffe’s biting commentary highlighted on the royal absences at key League moments compared to their very public support of the Rugby Football Union.
‘[D]uring the last quarter of a century I genuinely struggle to bring to mind the involvement of the Queen or any other member of the Royal Family with important Rugby League occasions.’
Continuing, he cited specific important moments in League history that were missed out by their then patron and her family.
‘Where were they, for example, when England played New Zealand at Wembley Stadium in the semi-final of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and two Commonwealth countries contested the Final at Old Trafford?
‘Where were they when the same two Commonwealth countries fought it out at Anfield, Liverpool, in the 2016 Four Nations Final? The similar absence of the Royals from a rugby union international at Twickenham would lead to nothing less than a constitutional crisis.’
Citing the historical and on-going disputes between the League and the Union, Mr Hinchliffe is quite biting in his criticism of the lack of royal involvement. He said:
‘[H]istory records not a scrap of effort from our Patron or any of the Royal Family to mitigate the efforts being made by their union friends to do all in their power to kill league.
‘If they had any real interest in decent sporting values and Rugby League, our Royal Family were in a unique position to quietly do something behind the scenes about both union’s bans and proscriptions and, in particular, the disgraceful outlawing of league within the armed forces….But we continue to believe that, somehow, despite everything our history tells us, these folk will finally come over.’
Mr Hinchliffe went so far as to suggest that there were malicious intents behind Prince Harry’s appointment when he said:
‘The Royal Family surely take advice in terms of the appropriateness of suggesting the Patronage of a particular member and, in such circumstances, bearing in mind Prince Harry’s infatuation with union, it is difficult to avoid the feeling of some actual mischief afoot in respect of his nomination.’
In his conclusion, Mr Hinchliffe has urged the League to part not only from Prince Harry but from the tradition of having a royal patron altogether.
‘I don’t know the practicalities involved in a polite refusal of an offer of Royal Patronage, but I hope it might not be too late for the RFL to give this matter a little more thought.
‘And, in saying a courteous ‘thank you but no thank you’ to Prince Harry’s patronage, let’s use Her Majesty’s retirement as Patron to call an end to this ludicrous cap-doffing once and for all and turn our treatment as Establishment outcasts into a solid virtue.’
There has been no comment from Kensington Palace or the Rugby Football League in response to Mr Hinchliffe’s letter at this time.