WRU chief backs four regions
April 7, 2012
David Pickering remains bullish about the future of the Welsh regions © Getty Images
Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering insists they have no desire to reduce the number of regional teams despite their financial troubles.
The four regions format has come in for much criticism this season with Wales' professional sides struggling on and off the pitch. Cardiff Blues were the only team to qualify for the last eight of the Heineken Cup while crowds have been down and a number of international players have been lured away by the extra wages on offer in the French Top 14.
However, Pickering is bullish about the future of the games a month on from Wales' third Grand Slam in eight years, despite conceding there are many issues to tackle.
"There is no desire on our part to reduce the number of regional teams," he told Walesonline. "We believe four is the right number to support the national team and the right number for development and to sustain the national side.
"Also, commercially we have signed up for four, so if we reduce the number of teams we reduce the amount of money we have coming in through broadcasting rights etc. So there is no benefit to us in reducing and as far as I am concerned there is no agenda to do so."
A report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers into the game's finances is due to be completed soon and the WRU and regions will then discuss future steps, which could include dual player contracts funded by both parties. Pickering cites a number of reasons for low attendances, including the success of football teams Swansea City and Cardiff City.
"At our national level we are punching above our weight and enjoying remarkable success," he said. "The issue is that the regions are in a competing market where football is strong and we have two clubs doing extremely well.
"So in at least two of our regions there has been a drop off in numbers and commercial income which has caused a problem. I think the regional structure has underpinned the national side, so it's worked in terms of producing players.
"It's also worked because the WRU has funded the academies so the conveyer belt is working. But the issue is one of the economics of the game. That is what we will now have to look at when we see the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, how best to tackle that.
"Up to now that side has been controlled by the regional entities themselves, but now we have to look at the evidence and come up with the best solutions. "But the regions and ourselves have never been closer and there is a real desire to work together.
"We should be confident and not fearful as we tackle this. But we have to face this head on. We've got to resolve it - and we will. We must look at the reasons why people aren't going to watch games, even though two of the regions are doing well with their crowds - the Scarlets, for example, who have seen an increase.
"We know that Ospreys and Blues attendances are down and that the fact 20,000 people are watching football during a recession has something to do with it. But before we do anything we need to see all the relevant evidence and maybe see what costs we can save and how we can be smarter."
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