Ralph Rimmer has insisted the Rugby Football League does not need to commission an independent inquiry into the sport’s dealings regarding Bradford: because there is already an ‘independent board’ in place to govern, and says he sees no issues with Nigel Wood’s involvement with the Bulls.
Calls are intensifying within the sport for an inquiry into exactly what has happened regarding dealings between the RFL and the numerous failed administrations at Bradford, dating all the way back to the governing body’s decision to purchase the lease of Odsal from the Bulls in 2012 for over £1million.
With Wood and his family now shareholders at the Championship side, confusion surrounding the Bulls has arguably never been higher – but Rimmer predictably said there is no need for any sort of inquiry. “You’ve got an independent board – that’s what they’re there for,” he said. “What’s the point of having an inquiry into an independent board. They’re there to make decisions which are non-conflicting in best interests of the sport. The independent board is there to govern and if we have inquiries into them, where does it end? It could paralyse the sport completely.”
When it was pointed out to Rimmer that there is a lack of trust from stakeholders in the governing body, Rimmer simply said: “Look, we’ve provided the information to stakeholders this week and hopefully that will show what’s happened. There’s nothing new there, that’s a collation of everything that has gone on.”
Rimmer rather inexplicably also said the situation at Bradford is ‘not a nightmare’ – pointing out the fact a fourth administration in less than a decade was avoided via Wood and Mark Sawyer’s takeover is a positive, not a negative. “Do I think there’s a strong ownership there who understands Bradford and understands rugby league? Yes, I do. Do I want to see them get stronger? Yes, I do.”
“Nigel was more than entitled to be involved in a club going forward, and he has done so,” he added. “The RFL will apply the rules as they do and no rules have been breached. The good news is that Bradford Bulls are going to play rugby league next year that’s good, because they have a big support base. This has not been a disaster. The club didn’t exist a few years, they’ve been relegated and then promoted, beaten Leeds, had a transfer of ownership, got a substantial crowd against Leeds.. that isn’t a nightmare.
The RFL’s Tony Sutton also appeared to defend the new ownership model at Bradford. When it was pointed out Andrew Chalmers’ consortium racked up well over £1million worth of debt in fewer than three years of trading, Sutton said: “But this company is still trading. Going forward, hopefully it can do so without the effects of what’s been felt in the past. Those creditors are in a much better position than if an insolvency occurred.”
Rimmer also denied that Chalmers’ undeniable friendship with Wood played a part in him winning the race to set up the new-co that would be awarded the Bulls’ playing licence in 2017 – while Karen Moorhouse defended the RFL’s Fit and Proper Persons testing system: which has allowed a number of owners into the game that have proven to be damaging for the sport.
She said: “In relation to the regulations we apply, which are different dependent on the circumstances, the FAPP test sets out objective conditions anyone wanting to become involved needs to meet. It is in line with tests in other sports like rugby union and football. We had a regulatory meeting in May and clubs were supportive of the regulations we’ve got – they felt they struck the right balance. When we talk about a change of control at a club, we need to apply the test to make sure everyone passes it. They did that. We needed to look at the business plan and see if it was credible. It was.”
Sutton confirmed, as revealed by League Express last month, it will cost the RFL £200,000 to maintain a mothballed Odsal for a year, and the governing body continued to leave the door open regarding a return to the stadium for the Bulls in 2021 – but admitted they are now exploring options regarding selling the lease.
“The club stated its intention is to return to play in Bradford,” Sutton said. “One of the positive outcomes is they do that – the board approval from the August meeting for them to be away is for a year. As per the statement from the last board meeting, we continue to look at the potential development of site in conjunction with Bradford Council – and the RFL also continues to explore disposal options, selling the lease, going forward.”
Moorhouse added: “We’re clear about the two hats we wear in relation to Bradford and Odsal – one being the governing body and another being the head leaseholder. During the last administration there was confusion regarding the Odsal head lease and you may recall we issued a position statement on Odsal. What we had to be clear on was we weren’t giving away the head lease. We had dialogue about granting a sub-lease but it’s an asset of the game. We took Odsal on and said prove yourself as an owner of the club and we will provide you with a chance to get a sub-lease.”