‘Hands off our rugby league’

Andrew Bell has set up a petition to bring Rugby League back to Featherstone Academy after the school replaced it with Union. Pictured are Andrew with is two children Elliott and Millie
Andrew Bell has set up a petition to bring Rugby League back to Featherstone Academy after the school replaced it with Union. Pictured are Andrew with is two children Elliott and Millie

Thousands of people have signed a petition over fears a Featherstone school plans to replace rugby league with rugby union.

Parents raised concerns that PE classes for pupils at Featherstone Academy were being switched for union in a break with tradition opposed by nearly 2,500 people who signed the petition.

Rovers general manager Davide Longo.

Rovers general manager Davide Longo.

Andrew Bell, who started the campaign and is dad to two children at the school, said removing the sport would put the town’s heritage under threat.

He said: “We have played rugby league for 100 years and it is a kick in the teeth to swap it for union. People have heard of Featherstone Rovers around the world and it’s what keeps the town on the map after the decline of mining.” The school, run by the Lofthouse-based Rodillian Multi Academy Trust, denied it was banning rugby league but questions remained over what the changes would mean.

Featherstone Rovers, which works with the school on training pupils in the sport, said it was “outraged”.

General manager Davide Longo said: “It’s ridiculous to think that children in Featherstone may not be given the opportunity to play rugby league while they’re at school.

“The sport is the most integral part of the community’s identity.

“It has provided a platform to take working class youngsters from the area and turn them into international superstars. Unbelievably, the town of 15,000 people manages to support a semi-professional team and a Women’s Super League team.

“Ultimately, this is not just about opportunities though. The argument goes beyond sporting preference, or class – this is a matter of identity, values and respect.”

Featherstone Academy headteacher Wesley Bush said: “We have vast experience and have achieved great success with our rugby union sides.

“However, we want to provide an opportunity for our students, both boys and girls, to play and experience both codes.” He said former Leeds Rhinos assistant head coach Barry Eaton was joining the school’s staff, which he said confirmed the club’s commitment to league.

Talks will be held between Rovers and the school this week.