Another rugby league own goal
Disappointed, embarrassed, enraged but unsurprised.
That was the general response from most rugby league fans when the news broke on Monday that Ralph Rimmer had been appointed as the new CEO of the Rugby Football League. Rimmer, who had already been interim CEO since Nigel
Wood departed in January. Rimmer, who had been Wood’s right-man and chief operating officer at the RFL for eight years.
The reaction on social media was toxic. A Twitter poll by Proper Sport’s Monday night rugby league radio program, which garnered a total of 252 votes, found that 94% thought Rimmer’s appointment was a bad move. Only 6% thought it was a good decision.
Forty-20 magazine tweeted with great sarcasm: “Congratulations Ralph Rimmer, new CEO of the Rugby Football League. We are certain you'll be as effective in your latest role as you have been in helping to turn British #rugbyleague into the vibrant, healthy and profitable sport it is today.”
On Thursday’s Back Chat TV show on Free Sports, Wigan Observer sports editor Phil Wilkinson spoke for many when he said: “Rimmer is such an underwhelming appointment isn’t it? How do you expect someone who where was there before to instigate that change?
“It’s just typical for rugby league, jobs for the boys. Rugby League doesn’t struggle for people who have passion, who will work hard and are well-intentioned, that’s not the problem. We need a leader who’s a bit more dynamic than that.”
Wilkinson hit the nail on the head. Rugby League in the UK right now is crying out for new vision, new ideas and innovation. It needs someone from outside the sport, outside the cosey confines of the RFL and the old boys network, to shake it
to the core. It needs strong leadership and a modern approach. There is little to no chance that we will get that with Rimmer.
The former Sheffield Eagles and Huddersfield Giants CEO is seen as a weak leader and as someone who can be dominated at the bargaining table. There is the line of thinking that that is preciously why Rimmer’s appointment was rubber-stamped – because Championship and League 1 clubs are confident they
can bully him. He is not a confident public-speaker and rarely engages with the media.
Rimmer’s track record in rugby league is hardly inspiring or screams success. His time running Sheffield in the late 1990s saw the club run into financial difficulties. He was heavily involved in the failed merger between Sheffield and Huddersfield in 2001, best known as “Shuddersfield”.
While at the RFL he sent was to Wales to help save the Celtic Crusaders. We all know how that turned out – a club went under and many players still today without the money they are owed. Rimmer also helped champion the introduction of Northampton into League 1 in 2013, a club that never got off the ground and never played a single game. The list goes on and on.
Rimmer might be a nice guy. He might be hard-working and passionate about the sport. That’s all great. But that doesn’t mean he can lead rugby league into the 21st century and helped modernize and improve the sport. What does he know of marketing, of attracting better sponsors, of the changing landscape of broadcasting and streaming? He has been part of a failed administration at the RFL that has driven the code into the ground, that has sacked development officers around the country, that has just run up a £2 million debt, that agreed a
juicy payout to his predecessor Wood.
Compared to the other candidates for the job – Mark Evans, Damian Irvine and Neal Coupland, with even Shane Richardson mooted – Rimmer is a poor choice. He reinforces the status quo and is a move against any change in the sport or dynamism. The fact that many people expected him to get the position just shows how disillusioned and rightly cynical many are about the future.
This has been another example of rugby league shooting itself in the foot.