RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer facing calls to quit over controversial Fiji comments

<span>Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA</span>
Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

The Rugby Football League is “following procedure” after confirming it has received a complaint about the incendiary comments made by the chief executive, Ralph Rimmer, towards the Fiji national team.

Rimmer will leave his role at the governing body at the end of the year, but he is facing calls to go immediately after making an offensive remark at the RFL’s annual awards night at Headingley last Monday.

Related: Ralph Rimmer to stand down as RFL chief executive at end of the year

Rimmer, who was discussing Fiji’s preparations for the Rugby League World Cup – they are due to play the hosts, England, in a warmup game on Friday – said: “Fiji have already arrived. We don’t think anybody has been arrested yet, do we? No, we’re all right, so we are going pretty well then.”

The comments were met with an immediate backlash within the game. Rimmer has apologised “unreservedly” and denied his words had racial connotations. But the RFL has confirmed it is following due process before a potential investigation into its own chief executive less than two weeks before the World Cup begins.

The RFL said: “A complaint has been received. The RFL board has procedures in place as to how to respond, and the chair [Simon Johnson] is following those procedures. In accordance with those procedures, no other comment can be made.”

Johnson was unavailable for comment but it seems inevitable Rimmer will be investigated. His remarks have overshadowed the buildup to the World Cup, as well as news of the sport’s strategic partnership with media giants IMG, which was revealed on Wednesday. Rimmer was absent from a media briefing.

Rimmer announced last month he would leave the role of chief executive, which commands an annual salary of £167,000. But he is now being urged to resign sooner, with his comments attracting criticism from many outside rugby league.

Troy Townsend, Kick It Out’s head of player engagement, said on Twitter: “When you believe you are untouchable you basically can say what you want, when you want, how you want, in front of who you want? I always wonder, what is said behind the scenes if someone is brazen enough to talk in this way publicly.”

In response, Rimmer said: “I apologise unreservedly for a throwaway remark which I regretted as soon as I made it. There was no intention to malign the Fiji squad – in fact the context of the remark was my excitement that their arrival in the country marked the imminence of the World Cup competition, to which they have contributed so significantly and positively since 1995, on and off the field.”

Rimmer is understood to have met delegates of the Fijian travelling party to apologise. Fiji begin their World Cup campaign on 15 October against the reigning champions, Australia.