RFU backs calls for euro revamp
October 9, 2012
Ian Ritchie agrees that there should be a change in the current format of the Heineken Cup © Getty Images
The Rugby Football Union's CEO Ian Ritchie has backed Premiership clubs' calls for a reform of the current structure of the Heineken Cup.
Both the Aviva Premiership sides and the Top 14 clubs have served their notice to the body in charge of the Heineken Cup - European Rugby Cup Ltd - citing an unfair qualification process and a distribution of wealth in favour of the RaboDirect PRO12 sides. The six constituent Unions - England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France - are currently locked in discussions regarding the future of the tournament, with the current structure coming to an end in 2014.
Premiership Rugby (PRL) has called for a new system to be implemented that will see six clubs qualify for the Heineken Cup from the Premiership, six from the Top 14, six from the PRO12 alongside the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Aviva Premiership.
The Unions met yesterday in Rome to continue the talks which started last month in Dublin but there does not seem to be a sign of any resolution to the impasse - talks will continue in Dublin on October 30. The RFU's Rob Andrew was present at the meeting representing the organisation's interests and Ritchie has claimed that the RFU is keen to see some change in the Heineken Cup format.
"We want to try and help bring that agreement together, recognising that it is very important to have a good highly competitive, meritocratic competition that exists across Europe," Ritchie said. "I think we certainly support a view - most people do - that some change in the competition would be a good idea.
"How far it goes, what the nature of it is, is the discussion that has to be had. It is in the interest of everybody to have a strong and vibrant European club competition. Those are the objectives we share with PRL and most of the other stakeholders as well.
"It needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency and priority but there is time to resolve it. I always start from a presumption there is an agreement that should be reached. Inevitably it will involve some compromise on all sides."
PRL has already sold television rights to BT Vision for European games involving its clubs from the 2014-15 season - a decision which prompted an angry response from the ERC who claimed that it violated International Rugby Board regulations and its own agreement with Sky Sports.
And Ritchie confirmed that Premiership Rugby was in breach of its agreement with the RFU by not seeking clearance to strike the BT deal. But, hinting at the RFU's recent apology to former chairman Martyn Thomas, Ritchie insisted everything should be done to keep the matter out of the courts.
"We need to park the legalities from my point of view," Ritchie said. "The RFU should have an ability to approve whatever deal is in place. We have made that clear to PRL and we have not given that approval nor have we been asked for it.
"The whole issue of what happens with various tv deals should be secondary to having a group of people sitting around a table saying 'how are we going to sort this out?' My view of life is that you have to sit down with partners. We have to try and get a co-ordinated agreement. Is that possible, feasible?
"I haven't got a clue. We have to try. If we can't we'll see but it is early days yet. You can obviate the situation about legal action if you reach agreement. Most people would say any form of legal action is a last recourse. If it gets to the stage where it ends up with lawyers so be it."
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