So, the decision has, finally, been made.
After months of waiting, the verdict is … erm … the guy who was keeping the chair warm is actually the right man to fill it permanently.
No matter what you think of Ralph Rimmer’s appointment as permanent chief executive of the RFL, the fact is that he’s got the gig. Ask people within the RFL and they will tell you it is a good pick; the feeling is that the work he’s done since Nigel Wood left the organisation has been good.
But there is little doubting that Rimmer takes his place atop the RFL on a full-time basis at a time when the sport in this country is crying out for stronger governance than ever before. The obvious starting point for that is the ongoing furore surrounding the league structure, which is now reaching a farcical level of play.
Not content with clubs taking shots at each other publicly, undoubtedly having a detrimental impact on the sport’s image, we are approaching the end of July and there is still absolutely no definitive proposal in place as to what the structure looks like in 2019.
The longer this goes on, the more difficult a problem it will be to unravel, given one particular element of time that must be considered. Clubs are already planning season ticket packages and sponsorship deals for 2019; Rimmer and the RFL must be strong and guide the clubs to a suitable conclusion that satisfies as many people as possible, in a matter of days, not weeks. Take the lead, seize the initiative and govern the sport.
The league structure, however, is merely a front for arguably the bigger, more troubling, problems facing rugby league right now.
A number of professional clubs are facing well-publicised financial difficulties. The solution in an ideal world would perhaps be to give them more money to ensure they survive, but not only is that of no benefit to a club’s long-term development, it is unrealistic in a sport with no infinite pot of money to go at.
So Rimmer and the RFL must help clubs manage themselves better; help them deal with the problems that could be alleviated and get some of the game’s most famous and historic names back on an even footing – looking forward with optimism. The RFL, don’t forget, employs a whole-game approach so all of its clubs must be helped where possible.
On that whole-game approach, however, it should be noted that some amateur clubs make a better fist of running an organisation than some of the sport’s professional sides can manage. Better crowds, better junior development programmes … you could go on and on … and these clubs do it with ZERO central distribution, compared to the hundreds of thousands – maybe even millions – being spent elsewhere with no return on the investment provided. Simply put, there are clubs falling short of the standards expected all across the game.
There are still some elite sides, who receive the maximum amount of distribution from the game each and every year, falling short. So, with little return on investment from some clubs in the sport, Rimmer, as leader of the game in this country, must now be prepared to instruct those clubs to change their ways or they will be punished.
One former Super League owner suggested on social media this week that a number of clubs should merge to ensure survival. While that is without a doubt an absolute last-resort option, both for them and for the RFL, if the game gets to a point where it cannot sustain the current number of professional clubs it may have to be considered. What if the next TV deal is reduced in value, for example. What if certain clubs have simply run out of chances to provide a meaningful return on investment, can Rimmer be bold and brave enough to exact change – and perhaps do the unthinkable?
The RFL and via that institution the game of rugby league, needs an individual who is not afraid to ask the questions that many others may have been afraid to ask. The sport’s problems need someone brave enough even to make game-changing decisions that could spark outrage and uproar now, but decisions good enough to show significant, tangible, long-term benefits for the sport, in years to come.
Is Rimmer that person? We’ll find out over the coming weeks, months and years. For rugby league’s sake, let’s hope he is.