Hopes growing of Euro resolution
April 21, 2013
English and French clubs are standing firm in the changes they want made to the Heineken Cup © Getty Images
There are fresh hopes that an agreement can be made over the future of the Heineken Cup after the clubs and six unions involved in the competition reportedly met for secret talks.
So far this season there have been three stakeholder meetings, but they failed to find any resolution. The current accord ends in May 2014 and last year the English and French clubs served the tournament organisers European Rugby Cup the necessary two-year's notice of their intention to withdraw if changes to the structure of the competition weren't made.
The Anglo-French clubs want the competition cut from 24 to 20 teams. Six teams would qualify from the Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and RaboDirect PRO12 - regardless of nationality - and the other two places would go to the winners of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup. There has been some compromise in that they have agreed it can be the top four in the RaboDirect, with the other two places determined by nationality to ensure all six nations are represented.
The English clubs are also standing firm on the issue of a new television partner after they signed a £152million agreement with BT Sport which includes provision for a cross-border competition. However, ERC recently extended their contract with Sky; something the English and French clubs claim is void as it was agreed after they had served their notice.
"Time is running out and there is an increasing acknowledgement that this is about not tinkering with one or two regulations, but a shakeup that will effectively mean a new competition. If we do not sort it out, there will be no Heineken Cup after next season," one union official was reported as telling The Observer.
The English and French clubs believe that they could absorb any financial loss if there was no cross-border competition, whereas the Scots, Welsh, Irish and Italian teams could not. Premiership and Top 14 clubs have meetings lined up to discuss proposals if the talks should fail, with the possibility of both leagues increasing by two clubs to 14 and 16 teams respectively, competition with the southern hemisphere teams or a new trans-European tournament between themselves and the Welsh regions.
"Some French clubs are calling for the Top 14 to be increased by two and, if that happens, there will be no going back," one club official added. "They are particularly keen for the Amlin Challenge Cup to become more meaningful because the group stage is little more than a series of mismatches, very much the poor relation. We have met recently and there is optimism that another accord will be agreed and that the new model will be far stronger commercially and run more democratically.
"We need decisions to be made on a commercial basis, so the cake grows and there is more for everyone. The talks behind the scenes have given us hope that there may be an outline agreement before the Heineken Cup final. Not long after that, when the fixture lists for the new season are drawn up, we will be approaching the point of no return. There is recognition now that we are not bluffing."
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