Championship plan is 'financial suicide'
November 10, 2008
FDR chief executive Geoff Cooke urged the RFU to start providing details to the clubs © Getty Images
The leading clubs in England are against Rugby Football Union plans to replace National League One with a fully-professional Championship from next season.
The proposed new structure would see the number of clubs in the second tier of English rugby reduced from 16 to 12, with participation granted only to those willing to become professional. To help offset the shortfall of league fixtures, promotion and relegation would be decided by extensive end-of-season play-offs.
Additionally, four Championship clubs would compete alongside the Guinness Premiership teams and four Welsh regions in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. The remainder would take part in the Anglo-Welsh Trophy. The RFU insist the Championship is "the way forward" and the proposal will be put to a vote in Friday's council meeting.
RFU management board chairman Martyn Thomas said: "The Championship will be a vital part of the structure of English rugby. For too long first division rugby has hovered between the community game and the Premiership, uncertain of both its standing in the structure and its future. Now is the time to establish its rightful place.
"The RFU is fully committed to funding and supporting a professional and robust league with minimum entry criteria and a salary cap that will support the Guinness Premiership."
The RFU issued a detailed breakdown of how their funding will increase from £1.65million to £2.3million a year. Funding would also come from Sky, whose new five-year television deal with the RFU includes coverage of the Championship and comes into force from 2010. But First Division Rugby (FDR) and Premier Rugby (PRL) - the organisations representing clubs in National League One and the Guinness Premiership - today reaffirmed their opposition to the proposal.
FDR estimate turning fully professional would cost each club £400,000 extra per year in their playing squad alone. The increased RFU funding works out at £250,000 per club. The Anglo-Welsh Cup and Trophy would also bring in additional matches, sponsorship and television money, but FDR are concerned that no new format for the competition has yet been officially ratified.
FDR chairman Geoff Irvine sits on the RFU council and will use Friday's meeting to propose amendments to the plan, which has already been rejected by the FDR clubs in a 12-4 vote. Irvine said: "We've laid out to the RFU council our objections to these proposals and why we believe it would be asking our clubs to commit financial suicide. We don't understand why the RFU is in such a mad rush to try to force through a restructuring, particularly in such challenging economic times.
"Instead, Council should ask for common sense to prevail, for proper and measured consultation to take place."
The RFU stand accused of failing to discuss the matter at the Professional Game Board, which was set up for just such an issue. And FDR chief executive Geoff Cooke urged the RFU to start providing details to the clubs.
"The devil is in the detail," he said. "There is talk of salary caps, talk of minimum entry standards, the clubs haven't got any details about those. You would not sign business details without reading the small print would you?"
In addition, Cooke believes the RFU are breaking their own regulations by changing the criteria regarding promotion and relegation mid-season. The new 2009/10 Championship would comprise of the club relegated from the Premiership, clubs finishing second to 11th in National League One and the team promoted from National League Two.
Cooke questioned quite where that leaves those teams finishing between 12th and 15th in National League One this season. "The RFU are going against their own policy," he said. "They have always said any changes to promotion and relegation require a full season's notice. A team must be aware at the start of the season what they are playing for.
"Now, halfway through the season the union are attempting to move the goalposts. You could have the situation where the 24th best team in the country misses out to the 29th best team."
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