RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer has argued there is no need for a public inquiry into the governing body’s dealings with Bradford Bulls and says investigations into its independent board could “paralyse the sport completely.”
There has been growing calls from many sections of rugby league for an independent review of what has happened at the four-times Super League champions.
Former RFL chief executive Nigel Wood last month surprisingly emerged as part of a consortium that has taken over financially-troubled Bradford. But questions are being asked as he was at the helm of the governing body when it gave Andrew Chalmers the green light – ahead of other prospective bidders – to take control of the Bulls in 2017.
Wood is a long-time friend of New Zealander Chalmers who then ran up more than £1m of debt before the latest consortium took over the ailing Championship club.
That also comes after Bradford suffered three administrations and a liquidation since 2012.
However, there has also been more concerns over potential conflicts of interest given Wood was the RFL chief executive when the governing body bought the lease for Odsal Stadium in 2011.
One of Chalmers’s last acts, of course, was to take Bradford out of their traditional home; Bulls will play at Dewsbury Rams in 2020 due to spiralling costs at Odsal. Asked about the potential conflicts of interest, Rimmer – who initially joined the RFL as chief operating officer in 2010 – said: “When that ground was purchased it was done so by a collective.
“It was a non-executive board plus executives – which Nigel was one of – and the rationale behind the purchase, having been in and around the organisation, was for the good of rugby league.
“Nigel was more than entitled to be involved in a club going forward, and he has done so.
“No rules have been breached.”
Wood left the RFL last year and is now the chief executive of International Rugby League.
Rimmer does not see the point of an independent inquiry.
“You’ve got an independent board - that’s what they’re there for,” he said.
“What’s the point of having an inquiry into an independent board?
“They’re there to make decisions which are non-conflicting in the best interests of the sport.”
Pushed on the matter and asked if there should be a review of the board’s make-up, he pointed towards a briefing note that has been circulated to clubs - some of whom have also expressed concerns - and other Council members.
“You have the facts, barring commercial sensitivities, on finance there in front you,” Rimmer told reporters on Thursday.
“The independent board is there to govern and if we have inquiries into them, where does it end? It could paralyse the sport completely.”
He was asked if he was surprised when it emerged his predecessor and former colleague Wood had taken on the Bulls.
“Nigel is Bradford through and through,” he said, Wood originally hailing from the city but still yet to speak pubically about his new involvement.
“He has a minority shareholding and a diverse board of people are there.
“Do I think there’s a strong ownership there who understands Bradford and understands rugby league? Yes, I do.
“Do I want to see them get stronger? Yes, I do.”
Rimmer said Wood’s friendship with Chalmers did not play a factor in the New Zealander getting the ‘new’ club in 2017 after liquidation.
“A full board made that decision,” he insisted.
“I’m disappointed about some things that have happened in relation to the club but based on the information we had in 2017, we chose what we felt was the best bid to set up a new club in Bradford.
“Just to stress there’s been no insolvency; it’s the same entity as it was in 2017. That ownership have weathered a significant storm.
“This has not been a disaster; the club didn’t exist two years ago.
“They’ve been relegated and then promoted, beaten Leeds (Rhinos), had a transfer of ownership, got a substantial crowd against Leeds.. that isn’t a nightmare.”
Bradford have 12 months to decide whether they want to return to Odsal for 2021. While vacant, it will cost the RFL around £200,000 per year.