Harlequins get Heineken Cup green light
September 2, 2009
Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans will be a relieved man this evening © Getty Images
Harlequins are assured of their place in this season's Heineken Cup after European Rugby Cup officials ruled out any further sanction in the wake of the 'Bloodgate' controversy.
ERC directors met in Dublin today, and later said they saw "no reason to interfere with the participation of Harlequins in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup."
Their decision follows suspensions for former director of rugby Dean Richards (three years), Harlequins wing Tom Williams (four months) and ex-Quins physiotherapist Steph Brennan (two years) plus a 300,000 euro fine meted out to the club by an independent ERC appeal committee on August 17.
In a statement, ERC said, "The board acknowledged and fully accepted the decisions and sanctions of the independent appeal committee which found the club, Tom Williams, Dean Richards and Steph Brennan all guilty of misconduct under the Heineken Cup 2009/10 disciplinary rules.
"As a consequence of the decisions reached by the independent appeal committee and the significant sanction imposed on the club, the board saw no reason to interfere with the participation of Harlequins in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup.
"However, the board went on to express its concern with many of the issues and practices raised as part of the investigation and in the hearings, and their implications for the wider game. And in order to allow time for further consideration of the lengthy decisions published this morning, and the related issues and implications, the board will reconvene on Tuesday next, September 8.
"The board has therefore reserved the right to direct the ERC disciplinary officer to investigate issues raised during the process, which were not covered or dealt within the disciplinary hearings to date, with a view to considering any further misconduct complaints."
The Rugby Football Union, meanwhile, are also keeping a close eye on developments, and their involvement in a disciplinary capacity at some stage cannot be ruled out.
A 99-page document - evidence of the appeal hearing published by ERC - lays bare Richards' role in ordering Williams' fake blood injury during a Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat against Leinster last season.
Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans has predicted a doomsday scenario for the club if they were to be kicked out of the Heineken Cup. He told the ERC appeals panel that any ban would create "the most extraordinary financial pressure," adding that he could not see how it could be survived.
Evans laid bare the financial implications of any Heineken Cup suspension in his evidence to the committee. He said the club stood to lose £900,000 if they were expelled from Europe, a figure that included £360,000 in refunds to Quins season ticket holders.
Evans added the financial effect could equate to 15% of turnover, which he said was the equivalent of a £25 million fine to Manchester United. He also questioned the extent to which Quins' board of directors could be held totally accountable when they were unaware of what had happened until an ERC disciplinary hearing in July.
Richards did not make a full disclosure to Evans until August 3, when the former England star tendered his resignation as rugby director. Evans said the hearings had been "unbelievably damaging and upsetting internally at the club".
The appeals panel subsequently agreed with Harlequins' claim that such a punishment "would represent a disproportionate burden and penalty."
The judgement added, "We agree that the financial implications of the Club being banned from ERC tournaments would be very substantial and in our opinion this would represent a disproportionate burden and penalty on the Club, its staff and players and given the extent of the Club's culpability in relation to the actions of Mr Richards, Mr Brennan and Mr Williams."
Quins opening game in this season's Heineken Cup is against Cardiff Blues on October 10.
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