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People: RLEF's Danny Kazandijan on EU grants and creating rugby league standards in Europe

Published in Sports Management 04 Apr 2016 issue 117
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RLEF general manager Danny Kazandijan
RLEF general manager Danny Kazandijan

In December 2015, the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) announced that it had been awarded its biggest-ever fund of €466,000 (£365,883, US$552,334) by the European Union’s ERASMUS+ programme.

The money, RLEF general manager Danny Kazandijan tells Sports Management, will go towards the implementation of a Training and Education Portal, which will provide a standardised set of protocols around coaching and match officiating across Europe.

Created in January 2003, the RLEF originally had eight members, three of which were full members – England, Russia and France. In the subsequent 13 years the “game has grown so quickly” says Kazandijan, pointing to a current membership of 10 full members, nine affiliated members and 13 observers.

This explosive growth and the need for devolution of responsibility was the catalyst behind the RLEF’s bid for European Union money to create the platform which “makes sure standards don’t slip” and that “bastardised versions” of rugby league are not being created within member nations.

“In the past there was a tendency, due to lack to resources, to deliver education in the field then almost just wish people ‘good luck’ and then expect them to produce rugby league teams and championships,” Kazandijan explains. “Implementing a comprehensive monitoring and assessment regime is essential, and this is what the new project gives us.”

The way the project works is that 17 partner nations have been split into five clusters, with one nation acting as a mentor, a nation below acting as a leader country and one or two nations as the learner nations.

For example, France will be a mentor nation, passing down its coaching and match officiating experience to leader nation the Netherlands, who will in turn pass that information down the learner nation Belgium. Candidates put forward by the nations will then be able to take RLEF qualifications, and will receive long-term professional development from Super League clubs Leeds Rhinos (coaching) and St Helens (match officiating).

“The first thing to say is that all of the qualifications will be standard RLEF qualifications,” say Kazandijan. “We’ve done a considerable amount of work on match officiating to make a unified approach. It’s the first time you’ll see a multilateral approach to a universal set of qualifications, which is the way the sport should be progressing on the education side.” The target is to qualify 100-250 people across both disciplines.

In receiving the ERASMUS+ grant, the RLEF training scheme can count itself as one of only 22 projects receiving funding from 330 applications. It is the third European Union grant the body has accepted after funds of €80,000 (£62,712, US$89,656) in 2011 and €298,000 (£233,585, US$333,906) over 2012-13.

Kazandijan acknowledges that the sport has benefitted greatly since the launch of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 – which made sport a competency for the EU. “External funding from the EU has been a magnificent contributor to our operations,” he says.

“We’re not dependent on the EU grants by any means, but if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t have been able to expand to the extent we have. By far the majority of our technical education has been made possible by contributions made by the EU.”

In addition to its work overseeing and governing rugby in Europe, the RLEF looks after the sport in Canada, Lebanon and Jamaica, to name a few nations, as well as Ghana in Africa.

The general manager explains: “We had a pilot project in Ghana, which is an isolated nation for rugby league, but that’s opened the doors in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Hopefully that will grow into a sustainable corner of the game.”

But there are challenges to face, Kazandijan concedes, particularly around the availability of facilities and the lack of government recognition of the sport in some nations.

“As non-traditional rugby league nations mature, facility provision is becoming an increasingly important part of the agenda,” he says. “Getting access to playing fields in countries like Jamaica, Serbia and Lebanon has become an important objective, as they’re spending a lot of money on hire charges and don’t have control over an expanding domestic championship. Where we can provide technical expertise we will.”

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