Future of Rugby Championship in the balance as RFU is urged to act

General view of rugby
General view of rugby

Championship clubs have called on the Rugby Football Union council to intervene in their fraught negotiations with the governing body over the future of the second tier, which is hanging in the balance.

In a statement released on Monday afternoon, the 12 Championship clubs claim to have been issued with an ultimatum to accept an RFU offer or “effectively be removed from the current professional game structure.” The RFU had hoped to conclude negotiations over the future of the second tier to tie in to the announcement of the new Professional Game Partnership which has been in agreed in principle with Premiership Rugby.

Yet there is still next to no agreement over the fundamental issues of promotion and relegation as well as equitable funding which is why the Championship clubs are calling on an intercession from the RFU Council, which meets on June 14 before an AGM is held three days later.

“The RFU Council, which is mandated to be guardians of the whole game and meets later this month, should intervene, request a review of our position, and help facilitate a whole-game solution, particularly in the matter of promotion and relegation,” the clubs’ statement read. “The Championship clubs have recently been issued with a deadline by the RFU to accept certain terms or effectively be removed from the current professional game structure.

“After nearly two years of discussion, which have been characterised by the RFU agreeing positions, sometimes unilaterally or in separate negotiations on the Professional Game Partnership (PGP) – from which we have been excluded – we have now been presented with a proposition which we cannot accept as to do so would risk potential bankruptcy for Championship clubs and would also further isolate the Premiership to the detriment of the game in England.”

RFU ‘will be disappointed if Championship clubs disengage’

The RFU responded by saying it would be “disappointed” if the Championship clubs break off negotiations after years of talks. The RFU has acceded to the clubs’ request for self governance as well as seeking outside advice around its strategy. A spokesperson said: “A paper co-authored by the RFU and the Championship was submitted ahead of the April Council meeting and the Championship clubs and its executive had agreed it would comply with the proposals to work towards a new league structure, competition format and governance model that could be presented to the RFU Council on June 14.

“We will be disappointed if the Championship clubs choose to disengage in the process and will continue to work with key stakeholders ahead of next week’s RFU Council meeting.”

While there has been progress on a number of points, the debate over promotion and funding remains intractable. The Championship claims the RFU’s proposal would mean creating a number of barriers to promotion including a play-off against the bottom placed Premiership team as well as “highly onerous” minimum operating standards that would result “in expenditure of many millions.”

Furthermore, they object to the funding arrangements which prevent the promoted club sharing in central revenues while allowing the relegated club to receive a generous parachute payment.

“The imbalance is further underlined by the fact that the 10th club in the Premiership receives a pro-rata share of the £33 million, whereas the promoted club would not access anything like that number, receiving approximately £125,000 in comparison,” the clubs’ statement continues.

“In stark terms, this is the outcome of these allocation decisions made by the RFU. They are inequitable and set a promoted club up for failure and immediate relegation. They are also far removed from a whole-game solution. An equitable bridge must be created to enable a promoted club to be competitive.”

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