Euro stand-off: Welsh crisis deepens

Sat, 04 Jan 2014 17:06
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The crisis in Wales, over the European Cup stand-off, deepened on Saturday.

The crisis in Wales deepened on Saturday as both the Welsh Rugby Union and the regional teams issued statements in the long-standing and nasty public spat.

The WRU wrote to all of its 320 member clubs to outline its position in the row with Regional Rugby Wales - which represents the Scarlets, the Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues.

And RRW hit back with a statement in which they made it clear they are determined to push ahead with their agreement with the English Premiership clubs - who want the European Cup replaced by the Rugby Champions Cup, a tournament in which the right to negotiate commercial contracts would be held by the teams taking part, not the unions.

The WRU, in urn, are determined to keep the European Cup going in some form next season, even though the four Welsh regions and the English Premiership clubs have struck an alliance not to take part.

That stance increases the likelihood of the dispute over who controls what in Europe being decided by a high court judge.

The English Rugby Football Union's Chief Executive, Ian Ritchie, is trying to persuade his Welsh, Scottish and Irish counterparts to enter formal negotiations.

The union insists the European Cup will continue, even though Premiership Rugby has said its clubs will not take part and the French sides will do so only if the English are included.

The political impasse is affecting players in Wales.

Five senior players are out of contract with their regions at the end of the season, including the Ospreys' captain, Alun Wyn Jones, who led the Lions to a series victory over Australia in Sydney last July, and while they have all been made offers, they are reluctant to sign until they know what tournaments they will be playing in.

The WRU will on Monday present the four regions with an amended participation agreement and give them 10 days to enter into discussions.

As the union is committed to the European Cup, talks will be brief as the regions say that playing in the tournament would cut overall income at a time when French clubs are about to sign a television deal worth more than the annual turnover of the WRU.

The regions decided not to sign the agreement last week after forming their alliance with Premiership Rugby.

The regions believe the WRU is preparing to offer players central contracts covering four months of the year and to subcontract them out for the rest.

The WRU letter to its clubs states it is designed to "answer and respond" to "the arguments posed" by the "current impasse".

The letter is signed by the WRU's group Chief Executive Roger Lewis, Chairman David Pickering and President Dennis Gethin.

The letter underlines the governing body's stance on a range of issues in the row and why it will not sanction an Anglo-Welsh league.

It also claims the new deal intends to ensure "Welsh player development and the retention of Welsh players is properly recognised".

The letter confirms that the regions - Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons - intend to break away from the WRU after 30 June, 2014 if no agreement is reached.

The three-page letter makes 50 bullet points to outline the current state of play between the two sides.

It says the WRU "will not agree to any Welsh club or regional organisation playing in competitions which have not been agreed by the International Rugby Board" and adds that "an Anglo-Welsh league or a non-sanctioned European tournament is not viable in the best interests of Welsh rugby or the games across Europe".

The Union also reiterates it is contracted to the European Cup and the Pro12 and will not "countenance leaving Scotland, Ireland and Italy isolated from meaningful tournaments".

"Apart from the moral imperative such a move would inevitably lead to a spiral of decline for their national teams and consequently the demise of the Six Nations into a meaningless and unattractive sporting competition," it added.

The letter does acknowledge the attraction of an Anglo-Welsh league but says it is not realistic because of current contractual agreements.

It also addresses the financial deal at the heart of the participation agreement and claims the deal rejected by the regions would have seen them get £7.6m directly from the WRU in 2019.

But the WRU does admit Wales will never be able to compete with the "powerful commercial income streams" in England or France.

It says: "The growing salary levels for players in France and England cannot be matched by the constant distribution of cash from within WRU resources.

"Instead we have to encourage our regions to grow their own businesses by improving their structures and commercial synergies to build support and stability."

The letter confirms that the issues of central contracts was discussed with the regions in August 2012 and that in 2013 the governing body offered £1m to sign "six marquee players" nominated by the regions but that they did not respond to the offer.

After the WRU's letter to the clubs became public, the regions hit back saying the organisation's focus "is all about control and not the best interests of Welsh rugby".

In a 10-point statement, called 'The Facts', the regions say the "WRU has failed miserably to negotiate equitable and fair revenue distribution for Welsh clubs in line with clubs in England and France " while also illustrating the reasoning behind their wish to join the Champions Cup, a competition they say will bring an extra £12m into the regional game.

REGIONAL RUGBY WALES STATEMENT (issued on Saturday, January 4)

Regional Rugby Wales on behalf of the four Welsh regions, the Scarlets, the Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues issues the following statement in order to establish important facts and provide clarity regarding the future of Welsh regional rugby.

* The Rugby Champions Cup will bring the biggest increase of funding into the Welsh game in five years. It will increase funding to the Irish clubs and protect the Scottish clubs. Bringing in £12m in three years into the Welsh game does not threaten the Six Nations or bring about its demise.

* In only two months, the Welsh Regions have themselves, negotiated the biggest increase in funding for Welsh Rugby of the last five years and are simply asking the WRU as the governing body for support in this.

* The WRU not only has full responsibility, but is also contractually obliged to negotiate competition revenues and TV distribution revenues under the Participation Agreement. The WRU has failed miserably to negotiate equitable and fair revenue distribution for Welsh clubs in line with clubs in England and France.

* The ERC Accord finishes this year and the WRU's latest proposal for a replacement to exclude the English clubs includes six undefined French clubs and maintains an unequal distribution of revenue to the Welsh clubs. Given the other opportunities that now exist, it is an inferior competition. The proposed competition would only be available on Sky TV, not terrestrial television, as is the case with the existing European competition.

* It's disappointing that the WRU's disrespectful response to another significant and positive proposal from the Regions (as it was to the real PRGB last year) is once again to engage in a vitriolic and disingenuous attack on the Welsh Regions; with the purpose of detracting attention away from the real issues Welsh regional rugby is facing and that need addressing urgently.

* The Regions would question why the WRU are scaremongering about a break away. This has never been mentioned by the Regions who have only asked for positive support as outlined in their most recent statement of 31st December. As stated then; it continues to be the absolute intent and strong desire of RRW and the Regions to work with the WRU in progressing such a positive position for the next five years of professional Rugby in Wales, or indeed to discuss any proposals WRU themselves may have that could provide an even stronger platform for sustainable and competitive professional rugby across Wales.  

* It is incredulous to the Welsh Regions that the WRU refused to discuss any item in the current Participation Agreement before its deadline of 31st December but is now willing to offer a 'new agreement' on different terms. Equally it is yet to be explained by the WRU why bringing an additional £12m into the game by the Regions, is not in the best interests of Welsh rugby.

* It would seem from the recent correspondence from the WRU to clubs in Wales that their focus is all about control and not the best interests of Welsh rugby.

* RRW and the Regions, through no choice of their own, have been forced to consider every alternative to secure a sustainable future for regional rugby in Wales; and have worked tirelessly to be able to plan their futures positively based on new options in the absence of any concrete proposals on income and distribution for Europe or the Pro12 league.

* The proposed 'one-off payment' of £1m for the recruitment, retention and development of Welsh international players was always linked to a requirement for the Regions to sign an extension to the Participation Agreement. In the Regions view, it was purely a hollow stunt because it always carried impossible conditions.

WELSH RUGBY UNION STATEMENT (issued on Thursday, January 2)

The Board of Directors of the Welsh Rugby Union met today and unanimously agreed that a positive way forward for professional rugby in Wales as set out in the WRU's statement of 31 December 2013, is in the best interests of Welsh rugby.

The WRU has today informed the four Regional Organisations that they will shortly be presented with a new agreement in respect of professional rugby in Wales. A timetable for discussion has been provided by the WRU.

The new agreement will further reflect the WRU's desire to ensure that Welsh player development and the retention of Welsh players is properly recognised. This is in the best interests of all of rugby in Wales, from the grass roots to the international level.

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