Chief executive Ralph Rimmer has spoken of the abuse he has received during his five years at the helm of the Rugby Football League but insists it played no part in his decision to quit.
The 56-year-old Rimmer, who announced on Monday he will step down in December, has served the RFL for 12 years, having joined as chief operating officer in October 2010, and succeeded Nigel Wood as chief executive in January 2018.
Rimmer told a media briefing at the RFL’s new headquarters at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium that the abuse he has received in his time at the top has impacted on his family but accepts that it comes with the territory.
“I get plenty of abuse,” he said. “I get it online certainly and I get it at grounds. Lots of people have my phone number and like to tell me what they think of my actions.
“I knew what it would be like before I started. Our fans are incredibly passionate and many of them experience lots of pressures in their own personal lives.
“I think sport is probably the cheapest therapy everybody has and that’s where passions come out.
“If you want people to be passionate enough to pay to come through turnstiles, then they’re going to have an opinion on what you do because they care about the sport.”
Karen Moorhouse follows Ralph Rimmer out the exit door
Fellow director Karen Moorhouse, who is also leaving the RFL after 14 years, cited the abuse as one of her reasons not to throw her hat into the ring for the vacant ceo job.
“It would be a real honour to perform a role like that but that role attracts a lot of scrutiny, which is absolutely right,” said Moorhouse, who has been chief regulatory officer since 2017.
“We also have some incredibly passionate fans and sometimes that can spill over into perhaps unacceptable types of behaviour.
“Certainly I look at some of the abuse that Ralph gets, both online and in person, and I think it crosses the line, it’s not acceptable.
“I’m a mum with three kids and would never let my ambition damage their wellbeing.
“I’ve a lot to offer and I’m ready to explore new challenges. I want to see what the big wide world offers outside of rugby league.”
A new era on the horizon
The departures come in the wake of the realignment of the RFL with Super League Europe and the signing of a 12-year agreement with IMG to “reimagine” the sport and Rimmer says he will leave the sport in good hands.
“I said five years of riding the rodeo bull would be a good achievement and so it has come to pass,” he said. “I think over-staying your welcome is dangerous.
“We have reshaped the sport’s governance, with the formation of a new commercial arm serving the whole of the sport – an essential step to forge a partnership with IMG which is unique in British sport and holds the potential to take rugby league to a new level.
“We’ve also delivered the World Cups and moved ourselves to another headquarters.
“I thought if we could do all that it would be a decent place to step off.”
Rimmer presided over the breakaway by Super League from the governing body in 2018 and, although he tried to prevent the split, he believes the game is now in better shape.
“I was completely against it,” he said. “But I could see the status quo was not going to be the way forward.
“I think we’re in a better place now than we were originally. The split came about because of frustrations, so it wasn’t tenable where we were.”
Rugby League Commercial, a new company created as part of the shake-up, has already begun a recruitment process for a managing director following the appointment of Frank Slevin as chairman.
Rimmer says he will play no part in the appointment of his successor but will work with Moorhouse to help oversee the transition.
“We are in the process of appointing four non-executive directors to join Frank and IMG rep Ed Mallaburn on the board and we have been blown away by the quality of candidates, which reinforces that we got the structure right,” said Moorhouse.
Moorhouse says the new appointments are expected to made by the end of the month and a managing director will also be appointed to enable the organisation to “hit the ground running from January 1.”
Meanwhile, Rimmer, a former chief executive of Sheffield Eagles and Huddersfield, says he has no intention of leaving rugby league.
“I’ve still got one gig in me,” he said. “I’ve no idea what it is but I will go and find it. My mind is completely open as to what happens next.”