RFU backs demands for Heineken Cup reform
Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has thrown Twickenham’s weight behind the Premiership clubs’ demands for a reform of the Heineken Cup.
Rob Andrew was in Rome yesterday representing the RFU at a meeting of European rugby executives attempting to thrash out a solution to a row which threatens the future of the competition.
The Premiership and French clubs have served notice on the current European participation agreement, seeking changes to the qualification system and greater financial rewards from 2014.
The English clubs want to introduce greater meritocracy to the Heineken Cup by forcing clubs in the RaboDirect PRO12 to qualify on the same grounds as those in the Premiership and French Top 14.
At present, the two Scottish and two Italian teams are guaranteed places in the Heineken Cup every year – a position they are unwilling to compromise.
“We want to try and help bring that agreement together, recognising that it is very important to have a good highly competitive, meritocratic competition that exists across Europe,” Ritchie said. “I think we certainly support a view – most people do – that some change in the competition would be a good idea.
“How far it goes, what the nature of it is, is the discussion that has to be had.
“It is in the interest of everybody to have a strong and vibrant European club competition. Those are the objectives we share with PRL and most of the other stakeholders as well.
“It needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency and priority but there is time to resolve it.
“I always start from a presumption there is an agreement that should be reached. Inevitably it will involve some compromise on all sides.”
The row was complicated further by Premiership Rugby and European Rugby Cup Ltd striking conflicting television deals with BT Vision and Sky respectively. Ritchie confirmed that Premiership Rugby were in breach of their agreement with the RFU – and of International Rugby Board regulations – by not seeking clearance to strike the BT deal.
But, hinting at the RFU’s recent apology to former chairman Martyn Thomas, Ritchie insisted everything should be done to keep the matter out of the courts.
“We need to park the legalities from my point of view,” he said. “The RFU should have an ability to approve whatever deal is in place. We have made that clear to PRL and we have not given that approval nor have we been asked for it.
“We have to try and get a co-ordinated agreement. Is that possible, feasible? I haven’t got a clue. We have to try.”
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