'Use it wisely' - warning to clubs over £16m emergency loan

An emergency £16m loan from the government will go where it is most needed, Rugby Football League (RFL) chief executive Ralph Rimmer has insisted.

Rugby league is celebrating some good news after the government stepped in with a 16m emergency loan. Picture by Tony Johnson

The rescue package has been made available by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to help professional rugby league survive the coronavirus crisis.

The funding, available only to English clubs, will be administered by the RFL.

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Rimmer confirmed it will not be distributed evenly and stressed both the governing body and individual clubs will be expected to “use it wisely”.

Ralph Rimmer. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Briefing the media on Friday, Rimmer warned: “This is no gravy train.”

He said: “I don’t know how many clubs will apply specifically, but we’ve done some modelling on where we think the interventions will be required.

“The clubs will now apply to us, they all have very different business models and some have benefited greatly from the interventions government have already made.

“There will be some that require far more support than others and the important thing is we use the money to get the collective through.

Leeds Rhinos' players have been placed on furlough and taken a wage cut during the coronavirus crisis. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

“We have a real responsibility to use it wisely, we have to cut our cloth and make sure we steer through some fairly difficult waters still.”

Rimmer declined to comment in detail on the terms of the loan, but confirmed the money will be available “pretty quickly”.

He stressed: “We have some responsibilities in this and you’d expect government to show good stewardship over any money.

“There’s an unbelievable amount of pressure on government at this moment in time to support not only other sports, but other organisations.

“It’s only right and proper that they put some fairly onerous conditions on any monies that flow from them.

“The basis of it is the work clubs do away from the field, as much as anything else.

“That work is vital in many of the communities in which they work.

“Nevertheless, the professional sport lies in the middle of that and if we are smart about how we use the money and we reshape ourselves going forward, we will navigate ourselves through.”

The RFL have been in talks with the government since rugby league was shut down midway through March.

Several chairmen and chief executives have warned clubs were in danger of going out of business without emergency support.

Players and staff have been placed on furlough and pay cuts were imposed last week.

“We are not a wealthy sport,” Rimmer conceded.

“We don’t have a great string of wealthy ownerships and that means many of the clubs have been under some extreme pressure.

“The government intervention is very, very welcome and the level of engagement I’ve had from government over the last six weeks has been extraordinary.

“It is timely it will certainly help us reshape and reemerge and the sport will undoubtedly benefit from that support.”

But Rimmer admitted the game “has to make it [the loan] last as long as we can”.

He added: “The governing body and the sport took some fairly drastic measures in order to cut their cloth when this lockdown began.

“None of those measures should be backtracked and we have to reshape for the future going forward.

“There will be a degree of due diligence from government on how we spend it.

“It’s all about making ourselves fit for the future and it’s certainly not about landing a lump sum in the bank account of each club and saying crack on the way you are going - we have to be far more meticulous in how we apply it.

“We have to make sure the money is used wisely in order to ensure we are sustainable in the future.”

Asked if there could be more financial support in the future, Rimmer stated: “Our dialogue with the government will continue and they will undoubtedly be looking at us and making sure we continue to deliver as we have been.

“Over the last six weeks I’ve probably been on the phone to them four, five or six times a day and in doing that we’ve developed a partnership.

“They understand what we deliver to our communities.

“These were already stressed communities in general and at times of extreme stress, which this is, those services we provide are of even more importance.

“The government understands the strength of the nation’s psyche, will be bolstered by sport and the good feeling it brings.”

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