WRU chief hints at possible euro compromise
September 12, 2013
WRU chief Roger Lewis has hinted that a compromise could well be found in the ongoing euro row © Getty Images
Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis has called on Europe's warring factions to 'lock themselves in a room' in a bid to thrash out a plan to save the Heineken Cup.
The debate surrounding the future of European club rugby's premier competition has intensified in recent days with the leading English and French clubs claiming that talks aimed at addressing their concerns about the structure of the tournament beyond this season and the distribution of revenue "have now ended".
European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup, have since stressed that discussions are ongoing but Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing English rugby's leading clubs, and their French counterparts Ligue Nationale de Rugby, have vowed to push on with their plans to go it alone.
However, Lewis insists the Heineken Cup could still live on beyond this season with the Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh sides, which have so far resisted calls for radical change in favour of the status quo, now open to a re-vamp.
"This competition is simply too good to lose," Lewis told the Western Mail following the latest meeting of the ERC board on Wednesday. "The four Welsh regions and the WRU are united in the ambition to make sure this tournament continues.
"We have always adopted a conciliatory tone to the negotiations. We realise there has to be give on both sides. We are prepared to consider a raft of possibilities for improving the competition, which will generate greater benefit for the fans and the clubs.
"We now need to cut to the chase because the midnight hour is fast approaching. We agreed today all parties will sit around the table. I also said we consider an external mediator to help us with the discussions and that was agreed in principle. In the coming weeks we will lock ourselves in a room and not leave it until a consensus is agreed on the way forward."
The English and French clubs want to see the Heineken Cup reduced to 20 teams from its current 24-team format and also a change in the qualification criteria that they believe favours those clubs in the RaboDirect PRO12. Wales and Ireland are currently guaranteed three teams in the competition, Scotland and Italy two apiece while the Premiership and Top 14 clubs must finish inside the top six of their respective leagues.
Lewis said: "From a WRU and regions' point of view we're comfortable discussing qualification for the tournament. We feel a meritocracy approach to the competition would enhance the appeal of the Rabo."
He added: "We're also happy to look at how revenues are distributed but I would emphasise 52% of the monies currently generated is shared between the English and French clubs with the remaining 48% being distributed among the three Celtic nations and Italy."
Another sticking point is the issue of broadcast rights. European games played by the leading English clubs formed part of the recent £152m deal struck between Premiership Rugby and BT Sport but ERC have since signed an extension of their long-term deal with Sky Sports.
However, Lewis has suggested there is no room for manoeuvre on this matter and also stressed that ERC must govern any future competition. "What we are not prepared to do is countenance a new company to run the European tournaments because we already have a company (ERC) established which has entered into negotiations and agreements with third parties. We're duty-bound to comply with those binding agreements."
Lewis also believes the proposed Anglo-French tournament is a non-starter. "The WRU, its regions and the unions of Ireland, Italy and Scotland will not support any alternative tournament," he said.
"It's not a case of one or two parties holding all the others to ransom - there must be a consensus agreed by all parties. Any purported cross-border club tournaments need the approval both of the International Rugby Board, and of the relevant unions who are shareholders of ERC."
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