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Heineken Cup Row
Latest euro talks fail to break deadlock
ESPN Staff
December 12, 2012

The future of the Heineken Cup remains unclear after the latest talks aimed at resolving the long-running dispute over the shape of European rugby landscape failed to produce an amicable agreement.

European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, representatives from the six constituent Unions from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body for the leading English clubs and their French counterparts, Ligue National de Rugby (LNR), met in London today for the fourth meeting of a consultation process aimed at safeguarding Europe's premier club compeition.

Officials have been at loggerheads for last six months after Premiership Rugby and LNR served notice to leave the Heineken Cup competition at the end of the current agreement that expires next season.

Premiership Rugby made the controversial move in a bid to force a change to the qualification process that they insist favours the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs, and force a change to the distribution of revenue. The plans for an alternative 20-team tournament were proposed earlier this year and promptly rejected by representatives from the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian sides along with ERC. The Celtic and Italian clubs subsequently tabled plans for a 32-team tournament that were also dismissed by the English and French.

Premiership Rugby have demanded that only the top six sides in the PRO12 are given a place in the Heineken Cup instead of the current set-up that rewards 10 teams and guarantees Scottish and Italian participation. However, there are fears that this could lead to some countries not being represented in the competition.

A headline-grabbing broadcaster deal recently announced by Premiership Rugby and BT has added fuel to the flames of the dispute due to the fact that it includes European games and it conflicts with an agreement between ERC and Sky Sports.

There were hopes that the latest discussions would lead to some progress after Premiership Rugby hinted that they were prepared to soften their stance on qualification if guaranteed a more even share of income but a statement from ERC released following the meeting revealed that the parties remain some way from signing a new agreement.

The meeting agenda included "an evaluation of the merits and the rationale for the proposed changes to the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup", as well as the "impact on all stakeholders of any changes to the format and structure of both tournaments".

While the evaluation provided the basis for discussion, the meeting ended without agreement. Jean-Pierre Lux, ERC independent chairman, concluded the proceedings by calling on all parties to take time to reflect on their positions and to consider the collective objectives of the stakeholders.

"After four meetings, it is extremely disappointing for all involved that we have not yet made sufficient progress towards a new Accord," he said in a statement. "These tournaments have become cherished by the clubs, players, supporters and our partners. Everyone around the table remains committed to making European club rugby stronger and we are confident a solution will be found.

"Together we have developed very successful and compelling European competitions built on solidarity, inclusivity and respect for sovereignty. Ultimately, ERC's competitions depend on the support and agreement of the clubs and Unions in all of the participating countries, and now each nation must reflect on what is the best way forward for European rugby as a whole."

While no date was set for another stakeholder meeting, the ERC Board is scheduled to meet on February 6 when it will review the consultation process to date.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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