Simple truth – English and French clubs never wanted to salvage Heineken Cup
Tactics of English clubs suggest it was about power and control all along
Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premiership Rugby: poured scorn on resuming negotiations with an independent mediator. Photograph: Getty Images
So the truth is out. The English clubs especially, and their French cohorts, never had any real interest in salvaging the Heineken Cup, even if it was reformed to incorporate a revamped format, ensuring change in financial carve-up in favour of them and meritocratic qualification. Their resolve is to have the ERC wound up and for them to run a new tournament, proving it was always about control and power.
Hardly a day has gone by in the last week without various spokespersons within Premiership Rugby, the umbrella group for the English clubs, saying they had no interest in discussions with their Celtic and Italian brethren. Following on from Friday’s declaration by the chairman of Premiership Rugby Quentin Smith that the ERC should concentrate on running itself down, over the weekend the PRL chief executive Mark McCafferty and Nigel Wray, chairman of Saracens, poured further cold water on saving the cup.
McCafferty accepted the Six Nations, being an international competition should be run by the unions, (how generous of him) but that the European Cup, being a club tournament (not factually correct) should be run by them, not by the ERC. Wray said the clubs would be “crazy” to remain within the Heineken Cup fold under existing rules, but made no mention of a Celtic/Italian willingness to change the rules.
McCafferty has always been the person most inclined to speak publicly and undermine negotiations within the Heineken Cup stakeholders, and usually to an unquestioning English media reluctant to reveal that the Celts and the Italians are willing to concede ground on the reforms.
McCafferty even poured scorn on resuming negotiations with an independent mediator, further demonstrating they have no interest in reaching a compromise. Firstly, even if the English and French clubs showed a willingness to come back to the table there remains the hornet’s nest of conflicting television deals. In September of last year Premiership Rugby announced they had signed a four-year TV deal with BT Sport worth €190 million which included the rights to show English clubs’ European games.
ERC maintain this was in contravention of their regulations and those of the IRB, that PRL were not entitled to sell the rights to Heineken Cup games in their jurisdiction. Nor, claim the acutely frustrated Celts and Italians, have McCafferty and co clarified the details of the deal and whether this included games outside their jurisdiction. The BT deal was also in contravention of a four-year deal agreed the previous June by the ERC Board with Sky. Effectively this means two conflicting TV deals and no apparent desire on the part of the English and French clubs to re-enter the room.