Contentious issues yet to be tackled by stakeholders
THE ERC stakeholders meeting in Dublin yesterday concentrated on proposals relating to the ongoing structure and format of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup without any discussion on television rights or other financial considerations.
The relative parties sat down in Huguenot House at 9.30am and what has been described as a productive and positive meeting finished at lunchtime. The upshot was that the ERC stakeholders have requested ERC to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the proposals for change to European club rugby tournaments for the 2014/’15 season and beyond.
ERC have been mandated to produce a detailed report, reflecting the views of the various constituents, in time for a further meeting – the third in the process – which will be held in London in on Wednesday, December 12th.
Currently there are three proposed formats under discussion, a 20-club and a 32-club Heineken Cup, along with the current Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup models (44 clubs); these will be parsed thoroughly.
This evaluation will examine the rationale for the proposed changes to both tournaments, as well as the impact on all stakeholders of any proposed change.
The current accord, agreed by all parties in 2007, includes a two-year notice period which began on June 1st, 2012 to allow for negotiations towards the formulation of a new accord. The current structure of both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup remain in place until the end of the 2013/’14 season.
The ERC statement is more moderate in tone than some of the rhetoric that has emerged over the past fortnight. A meeting in Paris last Wednesday, to which the English Premiership clubs were not invited, between the six constituent Unions – England, France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy – ended in stalemate after the French clubs rejected a couple of proposals from their RaboDirect Pro 12 counterparts.
The English and French clubs want to ensure teams from the Pro 12 qualify for a 20-team Heineken Cup on merit and for the money to be divided equally between the three leagues. The English clubs took umbrage at not being invited as they perceived it to be an attempt to break an Anglo-French accord.
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said: “It was a flawed attempt to divide and rule and it failed. In the short term, the meeting was not helpful in finding a solution that meets most of the needs of all those involved in the two European tournaments. . . .”
Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson offered a different view. “We’re talking about a much wider issue here: the fight for control of professional rugby in the Northern Hemisphere. It has to be seen in that context. There is a lot of noise being made in the papers in England, and a lot of selective leakage around the subject, but . . . the Celtic and Italian nations are working incredibly hard to make sure that the PRL and LNR (the French Ligue Nationale de Rugby) do not just steamroller their proposals through.”
It is perhaps surprising that the stakeholders’ meeting passed without more rancour. That may have been simply deferred until December. Whatever document is produced is going to have to move the process towards agreeing a format for the tournament or tournaments. And that’s before the thorny issue of television rights and remuneration is reintroduced to the agenda.