French clubs call for swift resolution
September 14, 2012
French side Toulouse are the only team to have won the Heineken Cup four times © Getty Images
French rugby officials have demanded a swift resolution to the battle to shape the European club game.
The debate surrounding the future of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup has been raging since Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation representing English rugby's leading clubs, and their French counterparts, Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), served notice to leave the competitions earlier this year in order to trigger a re-negotiation period.
Concerns over the qualification process, that they insist favours clubs from Ireland, Scotland Wales and Italy, and a desire for a financial model that reflects their commercial clout are the driving force behind the call for a re-vamp that intensified this week with Premiership Rugby striking a 'ground-breaking' and controversial broadcast deal with BT.
The tie-up includes exclusive rights to any "matches played by Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs in any future European competitions from 2014-15 for three years" by which stage the current shareholder agreement governing the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup will have expired.
European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of both competitions, have since queried the validity of that aspect of the deal while the Rugby Football Union has claimed Premiership Rugby do not have the right to sell the broadcast rights to European games. To further cloud the issue, ERC have also announced an extension of their existing broadcasting partnership with Sky Sports until the end of the 2017-18 season that clashes with the terms of the BT deal.
Patrick Wolff, vice president of the LNR, has called on all parties to reach an amicable agreement in the near future with European rugby's stakeholders set to meet in Dublin next Tuesday for face-to-face talks.
"For us the most important thing is that we don't want to waste one or two years on lawyers explaining who has the rights," Wolff said. "We want a quick answer. If we waste two years on the TV rights everyone will lose - Celts, English and French.
"Everything must be over by the end of the year, we don't want any battles in the law courts. We hope all these stories that have emerged are just the usual pressure before the start of negotiations.
"If that is the case then there is a chance to finish before the end of the year. It is not our understanding that ERC only have the right to negotiate TV rights. At the meeting we want to know exactly who has this right.
"We think it will be very easy for this to be decided. We want an answer from the English and ERC. Then the French clubs will do their best to reach an understanding."
Despite previous claims of an Anglo-French accord, Wolff claims that the details of the Premiership Rugby deal with BT are unknown to France's leading clubs. "We want more information about the deal, mainly what part of the contract is dedicated to the Heineken Cup and what types of TV rights have been sold," Wolff said. "Without this information, which we haven't been given, it is difficult to have an accurate opinion.
"Regardless of any TV contract, what is important to the French clubs is that an European competition is built with the best clubs. That means English clubs and of course the Celtic clubs as well. We want to play against the French and English clubs.
"We are not considering our own TV deal at the moment. We are not following the wind - whether it is a Celtic or English wind. We won't follow things blindly, we consider the whole and want the stakeholders to stick together.
"The Heineken Cup is a very good competition and we don't want to kill it. We love the Heineken Cup in France. Sometimes we complain, because we are French first, then because the Celts don't play as many games as us. But I can't imagine that the French will allow the big games like Clermont against Leinster not to happen. We will do our best to keep these type of games."
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