RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer responded to criticism for ‘going missing’ over the past few months by holding a media briefing last week.
Since a disastrous appearance live on Sky Sports, little has been heard from the RFL’s top man, who said part of the reason for that was the hard work going on behind the scenes meant he didn’t want to talk unless he had something to say.
“Sometimes there’s a time to speak, and sometime it’s time to get on with the work,” he said.
Unfortunately, little was said in the hour or so of questioning on a number of issues, ranging from the advisory group to discuss the future of the game, the re-alignment between the RFL and Super League or even if Ottawa will be entering in 2022 as planned.
Whether there truly is something bubbling in the background – private investment, broadcast deals or otherwise – remains to be seen. The message from the overall interview seemed to be “trust us, we’ll get there” but the patience of rugby league’s most important stakeholders, the fans, is running thin.
One of the questions I asked was about how fans could have their say in the way the game was run.
There was also the question about the “independent” nature of the advisory groups, given they are drawn from the same familiar faces that have made these decisions before.
A positive being sold about the re-alignment between the RFL and Super League is that commercial or broadcast deals could be sold as one – though this was surely the case before, so it remains to be seen just what exactly will be different.
It also remarkable to hear the words “very exciting future ahead of us” – maybe I’ve been spending too much time in the negativity pit that is Twitter, but even if your glass is half-full, there would need to be some significant developments for that to be the case.
Another question raised by myself was on urgency – clearly clubs, especially in League 1, are fighting fires in the short-term when it comes to their distribution for 2022.
It’s all well and good taking your time over getting the long-term plan right, but the game has fires to fight right now and is losing fans in the process. From an outsider’s point of view, there does seem to be a lack of urgency in getting things over the line – while acknowledging that things cannot be rushed and the difficulty of getting multiple people together.
It was interesting to read comments from Rochdale chief Andy Mazey too about growing concerns over the proposed solution of two leagues of 10 at the top of the professional game.
He says that the change doesn’t deal with the underlying issues of the game, and that the second division is still the second division, however you badge it up.
I’m inclined to agree with him. Unless the second league of 10 is forced to meet certain standards, whether that be by going full-time or by meeting certain criteria, it simply becomes a watered down version of the Championship.
What the uncertainty also does is make it impossible to plan for the future, or indeed attract investment for the future. Take Barrow, for example. They’ve just won League 1 and now go up to the Championship without knowing what they’ll need to do as yet to avoid dropping straight back down to the third tier.
A brief meeting with Barry Hearn was mentioned, albeit there was no rugby league talk apparently, and the Hearns are often championed as some sort of possible saviour for the sport – but that ignores the fact that their biggest successes have come in individual sports built around one-off events. Mirroring that week-in, week-out is much more difficult, not least when you’ve got to convince anything up to 36 different business owners to do as they’re told.
Clearly everyone has different ideas and opinions, and it’s becoming clear, that a suitable middle ground just isn’t possible – hence the never ending search for a perfect structure.
The most striking comment of the Rimmer interview for me came from League Express editor Martyn Sadler, in response to Rimmer courting the views of all stakeholders – “you can gather 100 different views from 100 different people, but that’s not leadership, mate.”
And it appears now, more than ever before, that leadership is what rugby league needs.