Carlo LiVolsi, who heads the consortium planning to revive Toronto Wolfpack, has accused Super League clubs of “trying to play it safe” after his proposals to have the Canadian club readmitted to the competition in 2021 were overwhelmingly rejected.
LiVolsi also strongly rebuffed claims that Wolf Grooming, the company behind the takeover of the Wolfpack, refused to show proof of funding to revive the Toronto club and stressed that they were willing to invest millions of dollars in the transatlantic operation had they been welcomed back to Super League next season.
The consortium’s proposal was rejected on Monday, by eight votes to four with one abstention, leaving the Wolfpack facing an uncertain future after the pandemic forced them to withdraw in July when the former owner David Argyle said he could no longer fund the club. But LiVolsi, who heads the Wolf Grooming consortium, insists he can make the Toronto concept work. That, however, would take a change in attitude and a possible return to talks over a return in 2022.
“They’re trying to play it safe and have certain clubs control the league, instead of what’s best,” he told the Guardian. “I will be disappointed if they don’t come out and acknowledge they didn’t give us a fair opportunity.”
LiVolsi rejected reports that he was unwilling to disclose proof of funding to Super League clubs. The consortium’s final proposal, he claims, allowed for one executive from the Rugby Football League and another from Super League to view financial details after signing a non-disclosure agreement, but only if Wolfpack had been granted a favourable vote on Monday.
“We vehemently deny accusations we refused to disclose financial information,” LiVolsi said. “No owners at any stage asked about our proof of funding. At no time from our proposal being submitted to the end of Monday’s meeting was it ever brought up. The owners never discussed it with me during our call.”
He added: “We were committed to investing whatever money was required to make this work. At no time did any owner approach us about that. They had my email and phone number and it was never a discussion point amongst the owners I spoke with. We understood that any approved proposal would require proof of funding from day one.”
The consortium also claimed they had agreed to a two-point deduction with the Rugby Football League as punishment for Toronto’s mid-season withdrawal, though some clubs were privately demanding 12 points. The consortium maintain they struck a deal with Super League to ensure that any return to Super League would come with full central distribution – £1.8m – with the Wolfpack’s previous owners agreeing to forfeit all distribution income.
“We said we wanted equal distribution like everyone else,” LiVolsi said. “It’s not fair that we’re paying for other clubs to travel to Toronto and incur those extra costs.”
LiVolsi said he did not feel the new consortium should clear the Wolfpack’s historical debts, but he had promised to honour unpaid salaries to players and staff, including the former All Black Sonny Bill Williams.
“The crazy thing is that we would have paid the outstanding salaries owed for 2020,” he said. “This was part of our proposal and something that the league should have welcomed.”
Toronto agreed to forfeit their right to play home matches in 2021 to further strengthen their case, after agreeing to play those fixtures at the 8,000-seater York Community Stadium.
“Robert [Elstone, the Super League chief executive] had suggested how he wasn’t a fan of how the previous owner [David Argyle] left the league, and we understood that,” LiVolsi said. “He had concerns about Covid-19 and we agreed to try and remove some of those travel variables from the proposal, to make the losses a bit more realistic. We were going to risk millions of dollars and needed to know if there would be a reward for our risk.
“They [Super League clubs] can’t see the forest from the trees. We could have made money for the players with endorsements of our [Wolf Grooming] products, and that would have led to other sponsorships. We would have been in the top 1% of ownerships in the league, and were willing to make this work by whatever means.
“They wanted us to pay for the sins of the past, and I always felt it was going to be no because of that.”
LiVolsi indicated his consortium’s backing for Wolfpack was in the balance now that their readmission to the elite club competition had been rejected. “Unless someone wants to invest in playing in a league of relegated teams [the Championship] it won’t work for Wolf Grooming. It was Super League or bust.
“There’s still an opportunity to make this work, but they need to change their tune or allow the consortium to put a proposal together for the future. Maybe you expand the league and get rid of some teams that don’t invest in it. If they don’t do that, how can the sport ever prosper?”
Super League has declined to comment on LiVolsi’s claims.