Breakaway or bust for Celtic clubs

Wed, 25 Sep 2013 15:52
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Premiership deputy chairman Bruce Craig says Celtic League clubs face 'financial oblivion' if they don't join the breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.

The deputy chairman of England's Premiership Rugby has said Celtic League clubs face 'financial oblivion' if they don't join the breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.

Bruce Craig told the BBC on Wednesday the existing European Cup was "finished" and that the only way forward for Celtic League sides was to join the Anglo-French inspired Rugby Champions Cup, launched on Sunday.

"If the competition is not approved then that would have absolutely catastrophic implications for Celtic rugby," Craig said.

"The European Cup is finished, it's over. The Rugby Champions Cup is a way to save European rugby."

English and French clubs said 15 months ago they would quit both the European Cup and the second-tier European Challenge Cup, both run by European Rugby (ERC) when the existing tournament agreements expire at the end of this season.

They want the European Cup to be restructured, believing there is an unfair advantage accorded to Celtic League sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

At least 10 of the 12 Celtic League teams - including both Scottish sides, both Italian clubs and a minimum of three each from Wales and Ireland - have a free pass into the competition.

But only the top six from England's 12-strong Premiership and France's Top 14 are guaranteed a place.

English and French clubs are also unhappy at the way European Cup revenues are divided, arguing they should receive a greater share on the grounds they generate the bulk of the revenue.

However, all the Celtic League sides have been invited to join the Rugby Champions Cup.

Craig, a bilingual businessman, having built up and sold a multi-million-pound pharmaceutical business in France before buying Bath, has warned the national unions and the International Rugby Board they face legal action if they try to stop the Rugby Champions Cup from going ahead.

"If all 38 [European] clubs were actually given the opportunity to come into the Rugby Champions Cup, I believe all 38 would probably agree," said Craig, a former scrumhalf with Paris side Racing Metro.

"It's basically the Celtic unions that would stop them from participating.

"Everyone would prefer that we didn't go down the legal route. We all want a competition that is a fabulous European competition.

"The reality though is that if there was to be a blockage there are obvious questions around restraint of trade."

Craig believes some Celtic League sides receive up to £3 million ($5million, 3.56 million euros), for competing in the existing European Cup.

By contrast, Craig said English clubs received some £800,000 annually for their European Cup participation.

"The amounts of money that is generated in the English and French games through our domestic leagues accounts for approximately 80 percent of our revenues, so the implication of not playing in a European Cup is much less serious for French and English clubs as it is for the Celtic nations," said Craig.

"People say the English and French clubs are greedy. The fact is we are losing money," added Craig, who confirmed English and French clubs would boycott the next ERC stakeholder meeting in Dublin on October 23

"The reality of it is that if the Rugby Champions Cup doesn't happen, then the Celts will not be playing in a competition and they won't have those distributions from that competition.

"This [Rugby Champions Cup] competition is one in which all the clubs are invited to play and there will be an equal distribution of money on a per team basis.

"The unions should be approving that so there is continuity in English, French and Celtic rugby, because if there isn't, there would be financial oblivion for the Celtic countries."

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