ERC say door is still open to resolve European impasse

Wales chief executive says he would meet English and French any time, anywhere

An ERC graphic at the Welsh and English Heineken & Amlin Cup launch in Cardiff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inphjo

An ERC graphic at the Welsh and English Heineken & Amlin Cup launch in Cardiff. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inphjo


Despite repeated assertions from English and French clubs that their Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby representatives will not be attending mediation talks which have been set for October 23rd, ERC chiefs insisted yesterday that “the door is still open” for all stakeholders to find a solution to the impasse regarding the future of the Heineken Cup.

As dark clouds gathered over yesterday’s Welsh and English launch of this season’s 19th edition of the Heineken Cup, and will again for today’s Irish launch in Dublin, the ERC chief executive Derek McGrath and its president Jean-Pierre Lux hosted a press conference in Cardiff in front of an English media which has largely sided with the English clubs.

“The future is best served by doing what we have all been doing for 18 years,” said McGrath. “ERC wishes to encourage everybody back to the table. There is a lot of activity to try to find solutions. We have stated many times that we absolutely believe that we will only find agreement when we have the full engagement of all the parties around the table. We haven’t had that yet. We haven’t had engagement and we haven’t had negotiation, which is critical to find progress.”

The PRL and LNR also stated they would not speak to the independent mediator, Graeme Mew, hired by ERC to break the impasse, but McGrath maintained: “All parties bear a responsibility to find those solutions. Walking away is not respecting the obligations to those, in particular, who are not sitting at the table – the fans, the players, the sponsors – who have a significant interest in the future of the competitions. I sincerely believe it is in everyone’s best interests to come to the meeting.”

Defended ERC’s record
McGrath also defiantly defended ERC’s record in running their flagship tournaments

“We stand by our record over the past 18 years of developing these competitions to where they are today. Right now, the Heineken Cup is the most successful club competition in the world that regularly delivers sell-out crowds, huge broadcast audiences and passionate support. Last year we delivered €45 million to all the stakeholders and that could increase next season by a further €10 million based on current relationships and agreements.”

The WRU chief executive, Roger Lewis, said fans were looking forward to the “next Heineken Cup final in Cardiff and not the last”. He added that the Heineken Cup was the best cup competition in the world and he urged all parties to re-enter negotiations.

“We believe in qualification for Europe through the RaboDirect Pro12 and we believe in an equitable and fair distribution of the revenues from Europe. A solution can be found if all parties engage,” Lewis said.

“We have to sort out the competition itself. The WRU is very happy at Rabo teams qualifying on merit and then we have to talk about the division of money, which we agree should be more equitable. We have to be sequential in this and let’s do those two things before anything else.”

As to whether the Celts and Italians were committed to ERC unequivocally, he said: “I do not want to be drawn on whether future talks will have to be outside ERC because all of a sudden we are negotiating 15 things at once. If we have shared understanding and agreement we can move forward. We have to take one step at a time. I have always been conciliatory, not confrontational, in this because we all have to respect each other’s positions.”

In France, the LNR chief executive Paul Goze has maintained the French clubs will not turn back and vowed that the French Federation “cannot force us to play” in the Heineken Cup, adding: “The French clubs can survive without the European Cup, but the Celtic and Italian teams cannot. Since the other competition (H Cup) will not take place, there is no alternative but to defend ours.”

However, Midi Olympique yesterday cited “several sources” in speculating that the FFR will announce, in the next few days, a hardening of its stance in opposition to the LNR’s attempts to forge a new breakaway competition and, what’s more, if the Top 14 clubs refuse to take part in the Heineken Cup, they will look to enter regional teams from outside the LNR umbrella.

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