HE MAY be under fire from the sections of the media and general public and even, allegedly, his grandmother, but Prince Harry has received enthusiastic backing from an unlikely source, Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer.
The sport’s 2021 World Cup is set to gain worldwide publicity this week when the Duke of Sussex conducts the tournament draw at Buckingham Palace.
Prince Harry has been patron of the RFL since 2016 when the Queen stepped down from the role.
The Prince revealed last week he and wife Meghan are resigning as senior royals, sparking a media frenzy and, according to reports, leaving the Queen dismayed.
In the tradition of few things ever running smoothly in the 13-a-side game, the news broke just hours after the RFL had confirmed their patron’s involvement in the long-awaited draw.
However, speaking at the governing body’s season launch at Huddersfield Town Hall yesterday, Rimmer insisted plans for the showpieve event on Thursday are unchanged and stressed the RFL have been delighted with Prince Harry’s involvement.
Every dealing I’ve had with him shows him as a thoroughly decent person who seems to have an affinity with the sport.Ralph Rimmer
“In light of everything that has happened recently we’re honoured the Prince will make that draw,” said Rimmer.
“He has been a superb patron for us from the moment he walked through the door two and a half years ago.”
The Duke of Sussex presented the Challenge Cup after last year’s Wembley final, becoming the first royal guest of honour since his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1995.
That was an indication of his desire to be more than simply a token figurehead, according to Rimmer.
“I’d say he has been enormously genuine in what he has done,” added the RFL chief. “When we were first made aware of the fact he would become our patron, I contacted his office to ask if he’d present the Cup.
“The response was that he didn’t just want to turn up on day one and present the Cup, he wanted to do some work within the sport that made him more genuine before we got to that point.
“He has done community stuff, some work at Headingley and some work with the England performance unit.
“When we [England] got to the World Cup final he produced a video, which we didn’t ask for, which we showed internally.
“It was a great piece of work and every dealing I’ve had with him shows him as a thoroughly decent person who seems to have an affinity with the sport.
“His office were smart enough to understand he had to develop an understanding of the sport before he stepped into public windows for it.
“I think he has done that. Stepping on to stages and mentioning us, that’s worth a lot.”
Prince Harry’s return to Buckingham Palace will capture global attention and Rimmer is aware of the potential benefits for rugby league’s profile.
“I wouldn’t say we’d capitalise on what has happened or we’d pretend to,” he added.
“Of course there will be the eyes and ears of the world’s media on that event and I suppose the event will benefit from that.
“It’s a difficult timeframe, I’m just pleased we’ve been able to make it work for us.”
As for the Prince’s long-term role, Rimmer admitted the RFL are still waiting to hear if the Sussex’s decision to step back from royal duties will affect his involvement in the sport.
He said: “We haven’t had anything negative from the palace regarding our patronage, but there are plenty of wheels turning in the machine at this moment in time.
“I’m very hopeful. From what I know, though all bets are off, I think his patronages will remain, but that could change.”