Five Unions resolve to press ahead with a pan-European tournament next season
It’s clearly a statement of intent in their resolution to retain governance of European club rugby
Toulon’s Delon Armitage dives over in last May’s Heineken Cup final at the Aviva. Next year’s tournament will again be staged under the governance of the ERC.
The French, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian unions yesterday resolved to press ahead with a pan-European tournament next season under the governance of the ERC, who have overseen the Heineken Cup since its inception. This move follows a meeting between representatives of the five in Dublin yesterday morning, and is clearly a statement of intent in their resolution to retain governance of European club rugby as well as flushing out exactly where the English RFU stand in the ongoing impasse.
To that end, the five concerned will seek to have a meeting between the various Unions, including the RFU, who are currently stuck between a rock and a hard place in their attempts to renegotiate a new accord with Premiership Rugby (PRL) in the build up to hosting the World Cup in under two years’ time.
The presence of French Federation president Pierre Camou at yesterday’s meeting and the FFR’s commitment to a European tournament run by ERC re-affirms his own unwavering stance since the dispute originated. By the same token it makes the prospect of the proposed breakaway tournament, the Rugby Champions Cup, ever getting off the ground, as the French clubs require FFR approval under French government law to partake in any cross-border competition, seem more remote.
Nonetheless, the Welsh regions are already stating that they knew nothing of decisions that were yesterday being taken on their behalf, and it remains to be seen the extent of English, French and Welsh involvement, in England’s case if at all. This in turn would have implications on the extent of Heineken’s involvement as tournament sponsors, and for the television deal agreed with Sky, while the prospects of a huge schism in the European game remain. The kernel of the impasse, namely governance of the game, remains without any sign of a resolution in what also remains a game of brinkmanship. The PRL and LNR are sure to throw cold water on yesterday’s developments but, in essence, the ball is now in the RFU’s court.
Issued a statement
The five Unions issued a statement last night underlining their belief that “it is critical to the interests of the game in Europe that the Unions are at the heart of the governance of cross-border club competitions”. To that end, they resolved to have a 20-team competition, “no matter how many countries are involved”, with the ERC to “remain in charge of the centralised sale and management of all commercial rights, amongst other things”.
“This was not a meeting which had a vindictive motive,” said IRFU chief executibe Philip Browne last night. “What this was about was how can we try and include everyone in European competitions and how can we find a solution? But there are some certain principles that we are all 100 per cent agreed on which were re-iterated.
“The important thing is that professional rugby doesn’t exist in a vacuum on its own. Professional rugby exists within a framework of rugby which includes grass roots rugby right up to international rugby. The development of the game happens within that framework and cross-border competitions must happen within that framework as well, and that’s in the best interests of the game as a whole.”
The five unions re-iterated their agreed position from the mediation talks in October, with their “preference”, according to Browne “that all the existing participants remain in the competition. Nobody is seeking to exclude anyone and that we have agreed on the financial distribution format that was asked for by the English clubs and French clubs.
‘Couple of issues’
“However, there are a couple of issues that we agreed upon as well which have to underpin everything. The first is that the competition will be driven by the existing organisation, which is ERC, and it will continue to remain in charge of the management and sale of all the commercial rights, and organising the tournament. Secondly, we will continue to evolve the structure of that governance. It has changed over time and will continue to change. Nothing is static.”
The more pressing matter remains a pan-European competition for next season. The five unions are now determined that there will be, but its make-up could yet be anything.
Premiership Rugby responded to the unions’ position by reconfirming their intent to launch the Rugby Champions Cup. “Premiership Rugby notes the statement issued this evening concerning the proposed new European club rugby competitions for the 2014/15 season,” read a statement. “There is no detail concerning the teams involved or the competition format given the absence of so many teams.
“The English and French clubs served notice on ERC and its competitions on 1st June 2012 and the required notice period concludes after the end of this season when the Accord will terminate.
“Today’s announcement would appear to indicate that the latest negotiations have been ended, as was the case in September 2013. As a result, we shall continue to implement the plans under way for the Rugby Champions Cup with the declared participants in time for the 2014-15 season.”