Defiant Ralph Rimmer admits Rugby League is entering uncertain times, but guarantees one thing – Rugby League will be back stronger than ever.
The RFL CEO has led the charge for the sport as it braces for the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, with experts estimating a potential 12-week lockdown for the sport, which would result in some dire repercussions for clubs at all levels.
Rimmer has led the charge for the sport as it seeks vital government funding to help clubs survive, while also preparing for various logistical scenarios dependant on when the sport can resume its action on the field.
While Rimmer admitted that uncertainty is rife across the sport at present, he was confident procedures had been put in place to keep its existence intact.
“I would like to say a massive thank you to the whole Rugby League community, who clearly care beyond belief about the sport,” he said.
“And that is what will carry us through in the end.
“We have a massively resilient sport that has demonstrated its resilience over the past 125 years and no doubt, one way or another, we’re going to re-emerge from all of this and celebrate the fact that it’s our 125th year with some fantastic Rugby League going on around us.
“We all understand this is completely uncharted waters for us all and I think it would be realistic to think that pragmatic approaches would be taken by all parties involved.
“If we’re going to find a way through this as a Rugby League family then everybody at the table has to give something.
“That’s the only way we can make some sense of a solution. I’ve tried to impress that on everybody I’ve sat down with and so far it has been relatively well received.
“Everybody out there has been just outstanding; so let’s keep going.
“There are many parts to this equation and I think the only way this becomes solvable is by taking the approach that I’ve just described, by sitting down and understanding we are in a place that we never, ever expected to be in and hopefully never will be again.”
While Rimmer was non-committal regarding the details of the financial package the RFL have asked from the government in a document delivered on Friday, he admits he is confident the sport will receive the help it needs.
“(The document) highlights different milestones of importance to the sport along the way. They know there’s an urgency around the first element of that.
“I’ve had a verbal response, nothing committal of course, on the quality of what we have submitted and it seems to have been very positively received.”
Now, Rimmer and the other key stakeholders are figuring out the best course of action when the sport does resume, with various logistical issues to work though, including the Challenge Cup Final, the Ashes Tour, Magic Weekend, Summer Bash and much more.
“Everything is feasible,” he says.
“We have worked out several scenarios and distributed them to our stakeholders to consider.
“We don’t know what the length of lockdown is, so clearly that’s a complication.
“Where that becomes more complicated is that we have different competitions to find a completion to, and the considerations in all of this are to take each competition to a climax with integrity involved, player welfare issues, and of course trying to keep everybody solvent.
“Those are the considerations. We’ve also got major event venues booked on dates that are difficult to move.
“We are dealing with clubs from other countries, which again makes the situation slightly more complicated, and we have other associated complications.
“I’m speaking with (NRL CEO) Todd Greenberg in Australia on a regular basis to see where they are, and clearly the condition of their competition has an impact on us as well.
“We’ve made some assumptions in the documents we’ve submitted and we’ve distributed these documents to key groups – Government included, of course.
“That length of lockdown is absolutely key to how we present the end of the season.
“I don’t know exactly what solution will fit in the end. We’ve done lots of scenario planning in order that we find a good solution in the end, but I couldn’t categorically tell you what it is.
“The availability of venues, and whether or not we can fit competitions in to hit those times of events that currently stand in the calendar, is unknown at this moment.
“We have made certain assumptions in the document and we will see how they pan out.”
He continued: “The Ashes series is a key part of our jigsaw, there is no two ways about it. It is
important, financially, to the RFL.
“More importantly, the Ashes series is there to act as an appetiser for the World Cup the year after.
“The landscape we are currently in clearly impacts on the next couple of years, before we get to a good place.
“We want to play the Ashes, of course we do. Super League want to play their games, of course they do.
“The Rugby League World Cup want the appetiser that serves the World Cup in 2021. All that is currently in play. I can’t categorically tell you anything else at this moment in time.
“All I can tell you is there is lots of scenario planning, and let’s see where that gets us.
“None of the solutions on the table will provide anything but a big bang, out of the traps, and let’s celebrate our 125th year, who we are and what we are.”
The possibility of games being behind closed doors has also been considered, with the sport keen to provide content for Sky Sports, with the broadcaster making monthly payments that many clubs plan for to keep them afloat.
“It would be naive of us to knock anything off the table at this moment in time. That may well be a solution,” Rimmer said when asked about the possibility of games behind closed doors.
“We’ve spoken regularly to Sky and BBC, so they would be involved in any decision such as that.
“But if we did go forward in a way such as that, then clearly the clubs involved would (lose gate receipts), which are an important part of their business model.
“Hence the request to our partners for support. If we were to come up with a solution such as that, there would need to be some support to ensure that we nursed the sport through that period, where they would be recompensed to such a degree that they could go forward.
“Sky have been really supportive, and all our partners have been. They have their own pressures of course, which I’m not blind to.
“They have been very collegiate in helping us find the right approach.
“I’ve heard nothing from either of the broadcasters that would demonstrate anything but support.”