Rugby·Analysis

Wolfpack return home after owner's apology for racist comment

The Toronto Wolfpack are a refreshing new team pushing the boundaries of its sport. But all the good work to promote and popularize rugby league could be undone by one damning incident of racial abuse, and as Nigel Reed writes, club owner David Argyle is guilty as charged.

David Argyle resigned as club Chairman and CEO after incident came to light

Toronto Wolfpack majority owner David Argyle stepped down as chairman and CEO of the club, citing racist comments that he made towards and opposing team's player in April. (Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press)

What now for the Toronto Wolfpack?

A seemingly model franchise threatened by one crass, careless comment.

It is a refreshing new team pushing the boundaries of its sport. All the good work to promote and popularize rugby league could be undone by one damning incident of racial abuse.

Club owner David Argyle is guilty as charged. The Australian businessman has apologized and stood down as Wolfpack chairman. His crime was what he believed to be a light-hearted, offhand remark to a black player.

It wasn't funny.

Forty years ago he may have got away with it. Not in 2019. The world has changed and so has the acceptable code of conduct. Argyle's fulsome, public apology may well be sincere. But let's be clear – he only said sorry after he was called out.

He owned up but he cannot take it back. Presumably Argyle thought his remark was nothing more than a jocular quip that would be received in kind. I am certain the Wolfpack owner never expected what he said in private to become public.

If so, he chose the wrong man.

Jose Kenga is a rugby player. He is a professional athlete. But first he is a human being who happens to have been born in Africa. Should he just have taken it on the chin, laughed it off and trotted off with his drink token? Sure, there was a time. But that time is long gone.

The timing could not be worse. The Wolfpack are back in Toronto getting set for a prolonged schedule of home games at Lamport Stadium. The club has built up a loyal fan base over the last couple of years. Crowds approaching 10,000 are not unusual.

How are fans feeling?

Many fans have made an emotional and financial investment in this team. They have enjoyed an excellent game day experience and have chosen to spend their time and money creating summer memories at Liberty Village.

How are those fans feeling now as the Wolfpack gets set to come home?

Some will simply walk away in disgust. They will want nothing to do with a club whose owner has been branded a racist. Some others will take Argyle's apology and resignation at face value and continue to support the team.

What about the sponsors? The Wolfpack has done an excellent job of partnering with Canadian and British companies to help spread the message and the running costs. Will they stay on board, or will they go running for the hills to preserve their own reputations?

Air Transat, for example, is a pivotal player. The Montreal-based airline was in from the get go. It transports the Wolfpack and its opponents back and forth across the Atlantic in return for high visibility promotion on the players' jerseys and perimeter advertising.

League investigation pending

Then there is the Rugby League's own investigation. The sport's governing body cannot be seen to condone racism in any way. It seems certain some kind of punishment will be handed down in light of Kenga's revelations. 

The league's board of directors has wide ranging powers. Will it fine and suspend Argyle but accept he, as an individual, has done all he can to address the error of his ways? Or will it throw the book at him? 

Argyle may no longer be Chairman or CEO of the Wolfpack. But he remains the power behind the throne. Without his financial investment the club ceases to exist – at least in its current form. If the Rugby League wants rid of him, it also loses his money.

His deep pockets have attracted rugby royalty. Brian Noble embraced the idea of Canadian expansion from its earliest days and still serves as Director of Rugby. Brian McDermott is a decorated coach with a resume of success. In turn, their reputations have persuaded high-quality players to sign on with the Wolfpack.

But coaches and players of this calibre don't come cheap. In the locker room I am sure they remain focused on the job at hand. They are all here to propel the Wolfpack into Super League. 

There is every reason to expect that ambition is close to fruition. Whether the Toronto Wolfpack is in a state to join the elite in 2020 remains to be seen.

About the Author

Nigel Reed

Analyst

Nigel has spent more than 30 years covering a wide variety of sports in both Canada and Europe. He has worked on multiple Olympic Games and World Cups, specializing in soccer, rugby and golf. In recent years he has broadcast Major League Soccer, Rugby Canada, Toronto Wolfpack and the 2015 Pan Am Games.