RFL Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer has admitted that his low profile in recent weeks, as the sport goes through a funding crisis, has given rise to some sustained criticism among Rugby League supporters.
Rimmer has kept out of the public spotlight since May, when he struggled in an interview on Sky Sports to counter the critics of the RFL decision to reduce the number of Academies.
At the time Sky Sports pundit Terry O’Connor tore into him, and subsequently the RFL reversed its decision on Academies.
But Rimmer had not been seen in public since then, until he appeared on Friday at a media conference.
“I know I cop some flak for not being visible, but there is a reason for that,” he insisted.
“There has been a massive amount of work going on behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s better to quietly get on with the work and speak to people when you’ve got something to talk about as opposed to speaking in a kind of nebulous fashion.”
Last week the RFL revealed that it had created a strategic working group to plot the way forward for Rugby League.
The members of the group are Gary Hetherington (Leeds Rhinos), Paul Lakin (Hull KR), Eamonn McManus (St Helens), Stuart Middleton (Warrington Wolves), Karen Moorhouse (RFL) and Rimmer himself.
According to the RFL, “the group will consider the game’s event calendar and competition structures and fan and viewer experience. The review will be holistic including league competitions, cup competitions and new events across Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair Rugby League.”
That group will work alongside a realignment working group, which has also been established “to review the governance structure of Rugby League with the overriding collective belief that the sport is at its strongest when it is unified and able to offer partners rights and visibility across the whole Sport.”
That group includes Rimmer himself, Karen Moorhouse, Ken Davy (Super League Chairman), Paul Lakin, Paul King (Salford Red Devils), Stuart Middleton and Sandy Lindsay (RFL Non-Executive Director).
Rimmer faced a barrage of questions from journalists, many of them critical of the lack of outside expertise on those working groups, given the financial crisis engulfing the game.
“The reason why we are going forward as we are, and that’s not pretending it’s a shoo-in, is because we have a collective momentum,” said Rimmer.
“I have to praise Ken for his excellent leadership. There’s a recognition that we need to come together. We all understand where we are.
“That piece of work will take us to a better place, the realignment of the sport and the guise that it comes in.
“We have been rolling out the RFL strategy as well, which has been a significant piece of work and was presented to Council in June. I believe there’s a session coming up with yourselves (the media) on that one as well in the near future.”
Rimmer was also asked about the current status of the international game and the pandemic, which has created havoc for sport in general.
“The implications for the RFL of the World Cup postponement have been significant in several different ways. We have to work with the government to find solutions for all that.
“I’m on the working group that will hopefully land a World Cup in France in 2025. There are plenty of international dimensions in amongst all this and we needn’t think that Covid has left us, because it hasn’t. We’ve seen the perfect example of that with the Cricket Test, cancelled at the last minute and there will be some significant implications from that.
“We still battle with that (Covid) at every level every week. We are pushing hard to stage all our end-of-season finals, to ensure that we end the season with some credibility.
“There has been some brilliant Rugby League in amongst it all, and we need to ensure we reach those through to their conclusion.
“Internationally we hope to announce some international competition very soon. We hope to play the French at men’s, women’s and wheelchair Rugby League at the end of the year, which would be a great finish for us.
“Shaun (Wane) is like a Rottweiler on the end of a chain. He’s very keen to get going and he’s done a massive amount of work with players as well.
“It becomes more relevant when we talk about the 2025 World Cup in France. That’s so that we can demonstrate to those who are key players, especially the French government, that their nation would benefit from staging the tournament in 2025.”
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