English shut out in Euro stand-off

Fri, 22 Nov 2013 10:01
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The ugly public spat in Europe took a surprising turn when it was revealed that English clubs face a shut-out after 2014.

The ugly public spat in Europe took a surprising turn when it was revealed that English clubs face a shut-out after 2014.

The latest development in the dispute over the future of European club competition has forced an angry response from the Rugby Football Union.

The tournament is set to not include any English clubs after the agreement was reached in Dublin between the Welsh, Scottish, Irish, French and Italian Unions.

However, Thursday's meeting did not include their English counterparts, the RFU

The unions' determination to push on with a competition under European Club Rugby (ERC) control risks isolating English clubs who, along with their French counterparts, are planning a breakaway contest to replace the European Cup from next season.

The English Premiership responded by saying those plans remain on track, leaving the landscape of European rugby next season - almost two decades after the introduction of the European Cup - still a long way from being settled.

"All five unions believe 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," the unions said in a joint statement.

"Cross-border club competitions must not conflict with the development of the sport in Europe by Unions, this being in the best interest of players, spectators and the sport in general."

And the RFU response suggested European rugby could be on course for 'civil war'.

"We are extremely surprised and disappointed not to be involved," the RFU said in a statement.

According to Thursday's meeting 20 teams, a reduction from the current 24, would take part in next season's European club competition "no matter how many countries are involved."

Ireland, whose sides have excelled in the European Cup in recent years, have been holding out along with the Scottish and Italian Unions in the hope that negotiations can save the existing competition.

The public support of the French Union is a major boost. French Federation president Pierre Camou told the meeting he was confident five Top 14 clubs would remain in the competition and that he was looking for three more to join the 12 Celtic and Italian teams, the Guardian newspaper said on its website.

The Welsh Union's stance also puts it at odds with the four Welsh regional teams - Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons - who last month surprisingly backed the Anglo-French clubs' plan.

The English and French leagues said last year they planned to withdraw from the existing format at the end of this season after making no headway in negotiations with the Celtic unions over qualification criteria and income distribution.

Disagreements about the tournament's future TV rights - with newcomers BT coming into conflict with long-standing partner Sky - has also proved a major stumbling block.

The head of the English Premiership told Reuters last week that the new club competition - the two-tier 'Rugby Champions Cup' - is a "train that has left the station" and it was just a question of which teams wanted to join.

In their own statement on Thursday, English Premiership said: "There is no detail concerning the teams involved or the competition format given the absence of so many teams.

"We shall continue to implement the plans underway for the Rugby Champions Cup with the declared participants in time for the 2014-15 season, as required by our clubs."

Premiership Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty is also adamant the Rugby Champions Cup continues to be backed by the French clubs and Welsh Regions.

It has been reported that support from the Top 14 sides is wavering amid pressure and financial incentives from their union and they appear to hold the key to victory in the dispute over the future of European competition.

Should the French clubs become divided, Europe faces the prospect of rival tournaments being run in tandem next season.

McCafferty is confident they remain loyal - along with the Welsh.

"We don't see any evidence of their support wavering. We were working with them on Wednesday on the implementation of the Champions Cup," McCafferty said.

"They certainly say that they've never received a financial offer from the French union and we've taken that on trust.

"They've made it very clear over the last 18 months they won't be involved in any competitions in which the English clubs are not playing

"I'm also confident that the Welsh regions remain in support of the Rugby Champions Cup."
The full statement from the five unions (FFR, FIR, IRFU, SRU and WRU) that attended Thursday's meeting: "All five Unions believe 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 given that rugby in each country is organised in a pyramidical structure. Clubs, provinces and regional organisations form an integral part of the development of the game throughout this structure, from grassroots to the international game.  Cross-border club competitions must not conflict with the development of the sport in Europe by Unions, this being in the best interest of players, spectators and the sport in general.

The five Unions reconfirmed their agreement with the new competition formats and financial distribution formula previously agreed by the six Unions who attended the mediated meeting in Dublin on 23-24 October (http://www.ercrugby.com/news/25300.php ).

Following Thursday's discussions, the five Unions have agreed the following:
* A European club competition is to take place during the 2014/2015 season following an optimised sporting and economic format with 20 teams, no matter how many countries are involved.
* The competition will be driven by the existing organisation (currently named ERC) which will remain in charge of the centralised sale and management of all commercial rights, amongst other things.
* Discussions over governance will be pursued in order to optimise the internal functioning of the existing organisation (currently named ERC).
* The common aim is to move eventually towards the integration of European competitions within an all-encompassing European rugby framework.

RFU statement in full: "We are extremely surprised and disappointed not to be involved Thursday. It is right that the outcomes of the mediated meeting held in Dublin on 24th October, which resulted in an agreement for a meritocratic tournament and equitable distribution of revenues, have been reaffirmed.  It has been clear for some time that governance is a central outstanding issue and we remain committed to help facilitate a solution so that a truly pan European competition can continue to thrive for the benefit of players and spectators alike."

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